Director: Paul Greengrass
Cinematography: Pal Ulvik Rokseth
Writers: Paul Greengrass (screenplay), Asne Seierstand (Novel)
Stars: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Stan Gravli, Jan Oigarden, Maria Brock
Paul Greengrass films envoke many emotions, but the most prevalent will always be his ability to anger and shock. “22 July” is his latest experience film portraying the 2011 Norway attacks. It’s very much in the same vein as his previous film “United 93,” but twice as fucked up and maddening.
22 July is extremely impactful filmmaking, but the impactfulness comes from seriously sick and traumatic scenes that stick with you well after the film ends. The first act of the film shows in detail the horror of the 22nd of July and that fateful day that changed Norway forever. Watching an act of terrorism, even as a production, is incredibly difficult to watch. This film, similarly to United 93, drives out intense anger that is blinding. It’s an experience that is easy to get wrapped up into it because it’s so unbelievably intense.
The first act is simply fucked. The film even builds up the bond of the kids at the Oteya summer camp, only to have the end result destroy any warm feelings. The set-up to the attack is effective in making the actual attack that much more devastating, but ultimately heartbreaking thinking back on those moments in the film.
As for the actual attack scenes, Greengrass shows real, visceral moments that produce so much natural adrenaline. Based on reports, the film feels true to life and in doing so captures the absolute horror of being trapped on an island with a psychotic gunman. No one does this moments more effectively, but it goes to such extremes that it’s hard to enjoy regardless of the quality of filmmaking. The moment where Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) tells a group of terrified campers that “this is the day you will die” will stick with me forever because of the sheer viscousness.
It works in that the first act completely captivated with senseless, unexplainable violence. It truly felt like watching the experience live. That’s how good the filmmaking was in those moments.
However, the second act of the film obviously loses that adrenaline rush, but fortunately, the narrative impact stays strong through an interesting set of ideas presented through the message of the narrative. How the state proceeds in a terrorist case and how even an evil man is required due process brings a rather interesting discussion. The idea that this man deserves a true defense as he shows no remorse for any of his crimes while threatening further action on Norway. The way it was handled is fascinating.
The second half of the film still shows off the trauma in most of the characters, especially in the lead Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), which lends itself to emotional and telling interactions between survivors and the parents of survivors. It shows how these families survived after the fallout, and how Breivik’s trial contributed to their healing while bringing a semblance of strength and peace of mind back to Norway. Hansen’s final testimony is a really powerful moment.
The story isn’t always straightforward. Take Hanssen’s brother, for example, his troubles take a backseat to Viljar’s surgery and struggle to survive. It does get mentioned near the end, but his presence is almost a non-sequitur. An afterthought. Some aspects of the story are left out to fit it all in
I very much enjoyed this saddening yet inspiring tale of bravery and persistence through unimaginable pain from the survivors. In some respects, this film feels like torture porn. The film almost gets off to the violence, and while it shows it in full and uncensored, it almost feels as if it’s glorified this attack. On the other hand, the film ends on a sobering but ultimately powerful note that is branded into your brain from Viljar’s testimony. It simply shows the attack, due process, and after effects. It’s an all-encompassing look and one that is worthy of a viewing for the experience alone.