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22 July Movie Review

22 July (2018) movie poster 22 July

Theatrical Release: October 10, 2018 / Running Time: 144 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Paul Greengrass / Writers: Paul Greengrass (screenplay); Åsne Seierstad (book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath)

Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie (Anders Behring Breivik), Jonas Strand Gravli (Viljar Hanssen), Jon Øigarden (Geir Lippestad), Isak Bakli Aglen (Torje Hanssen), Maria Bock (Christin Kristofferson), Thorbjørn Harr (Sveinn Are Hanssen), Seda Witt (Lara Rachid), Ola G. Furuseth (Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg), Hilde Olaussen (Breivik's Mother), Lena Kristin Ellingsen (Signe Lippestad), Tone Danielsen (Judge Wenche Arntzen)


There's a very specific kind of docudrama that Paul Greengrass seems inclined to make and to make very well. In it, bad men disrupt and forever alter the lives of ordinary people going about their day. Greengrass explored this in his level-headed 9/11 plane hijacking film United 93 (2006)
and again in the Somali pirate ship drama Captain Phillips (2013). In his latest, 22 July, the Bourne sequel director turns our attentions to a 2011 terrorist attack in Norway, to which he applies his signature fact-driven approach.

Opening on the 21st of July, the film details an incident that Americans may very well have forgotten if they even heard about it in the first place. From the outset, Greengrass devotes nearly an even amount of time to the lone perpetrator, anti-immigration extremist Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie), and the victims, the bulk of whom are teenagers attending a summer camp on an island.

Breivik calmly, silently prepares and executes his attack, first setting off a massive van explosion not far from the Prime Minister's office, then posing as a police officer assigned to secure the island of Utøya, where teens are happily attending a camp organized by the youth division of Norway's Labour Party. It's there Breivik does the bulk of his damage, using semi-automatic weapons to injure hundreds and murder 69 people.

Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli, right) and friend hide on the side of a cliff while a gunman attacks their Utøyan summer camp in "22 July."

Surprisingly, given the way that United 93 and Captain Phillips allowed their hijackings to play out nearly in real time, the date in question passes quickly here, with Breivik captured alive and taken into custody well before the halfway point of the film's substantial runtime. This allows Greengrass to dig deep into the aftermath of tragedy. When the film is not exploring Breivik and the legal defense being mounted by the lawyer (Jon Øigarden) who is surprised to be personally requested, it is looking at post-attack life for Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). The popular teenaged son of a small town mayor (Christin Kristoffersen), Viljar narrowly survives after being shot five times and faces a dramatic recovery to even walk again.

As his dutiful lawyer advises, Breivik undergoes psychiatric evaluation to prepare an insanity defense that will spare him jail time, a strategy that understandably outrages the parents of the slain children and other Norwegians appalled by his actions. Sporting a chinstrap beard, the thirtysomething Breivik shows no remorse for what he's done, dubiously insisting his two attacks have been carried out on behalf the Knights Templar in what is to start a war to restore Norway to its past and rid the nation of its foreigners. No one, not even his mother, will testify on his behalf.

As usual, Greengrass opts for a presentation that favors perspectives over persuasion. Even so, the disdain held for the perpretrator is evident and palpable. As you contemplate what is an appropriate punishment for someone responsible for such atrocities, the movie shows you what is not as Breivik leisurely snacks on pizza and soda while making demands of the prime minister mere hours after his carnage. That prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), provides a tertiary layer for the film to explore, as he makes official statements and looks into how such a deadly attack could be carried out as it was.

Evil sports a chinstrap beard in "22 July", which stars Anders Danielsen Lie as the deadly anti-immigration radical Anders Behring Breivik.

While its runtime is a tad excessive, 22 July remains gripping throughout,
both in its harrowing early scenes and its compelling later ones. You can always expect Greengrass to supply both unflinching intensity and authenticity. The latter, a prominent feature of Greengrass' solo screenplay, seems born out of meticulous research beyond the one credited source text, freelance journalist Åsne Seierstad's 2015 book One of Us.

The most puzzling aspect of the production is its decision to play out in English. Greengrass has filmed this in Norway with an all-Norwegian cast. Their performances in accented English rather than their native tongues denies the film another layer of authenticity and also the distance that is often dramatically advantageous, especially when dealing with events that the viewers will not personally have experienced. The rationale seems to be that the English presentation renders this drama more widely accessible, an understandable consideration given the $20 million budget afforded this Netflix Original. But it's awfully easy for Netflix to offer an English dub.

As is, the film has the principal disadvantages of a foreign film (a no-name cast and what looks like a foreign movie's title), but not the perk of getting considered for Best Foreign Language Feature awards. Of course, last year Netflix tried getting Angelina Jolie's Khmer-language drama First They Killed My Father nominated as Cambodia's official selection for Foreign Language Film and, even with Jolie's dual citizenship, that failed to gain traction (though it did snag a Golden Globes nomination). Nonetheless, I imagine most people likely to watch 22 July in this form would not be opposed to reading subtitles on a Norwegian language version.

Unlike Greengrass' other movies, this one won't get a wide theatrical release. In fact, the specifics of its theatrical release will remain a mystery to people who do not work at Netflix. The streaming giant does seem to be taking strides for their acquisitions to be seen as cinema and not just television; this was the company's first original film theatrically screened for critics in my metropolis. They may not be budging from their exhibitor-ruffling, industry-changing day-and-date streaming strategy, but with the money they are investing into quality work from talented, serious filmmakers like Greengrass, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Noah Baumbach, Steven Soderbergh, and even unparalleled cinema lover Martin Scorsese, Netflix is right to take measures to ensure these films are not just technically eligible but actually in play for the Oscars and other organizations to validate with accolades.

Related Reviews:
Directed by Paul Greengrass: Captain PhillipsJason Bourne
Docudramas: 15:17 to ParisStrongerPatriots Day
Scandinavian Cinema: The VanishingIn a Better WorldKon-Tiki ThaleInsomnia (1997) • 1,000 Times Good Night
Now in Theaters: A Star Is BornBad Times at the El RoyaleThe Old Man & the GunCan You Ever Forgive Me?

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Reviewed October 11, 2018.

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