Review: 22 July

Title:  22 July
Rating: R
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring:  Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Strand Garvli, Jon Oigarden
Runtime: 2 Hour 23 Minutes

What It Is: In Norway on 22 July 2011, right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 young people attending a Labour Party Youth Camp on Utøya Island outside of Oslo. A three-part story about the survivors of the attacks, the political leadership of Norway, and the lawyers involved is played out here.

What We Think: Terror attacks are tremendously difficult to render on film — step one inch in the wrong direction and it risks becoming exploitative entertainment. How do you authentically capture the dread and trauma of victims and survivors without cheapening it, or extending their pain? Greengrass has form in these kinds of films, he’s made three previously — United 93, Captain Phillips and Bloody Sunday — so he’s well-versed in needing to balance telling the story compellingly and accurately with the responsibilities that come with dramatizing such an awful story. The first 30 minutes are devoted to the actual attacks. Greengrass is well-known for his handheld shaky-cam filming and his gritty style suits the intensity and confusion of following those kids as they run for cover while Breivik taunts them for being “Marxists, liberals, and members of the elite”. It’s a stark contrast to only moments earlier when they were playing sport together, with smiles across their faces and optimism in the air.

While it may seem like the attack would be the most visceral part of 22 July, the rest of the film has the same heaviness and disturbing air — the rehabilitation of survivors, whose agony extends far beyond the island, and the potentially socially damaging public trial, during which Breivik demands he be heard. It may seem like a strange choice for Greengrass, an outsider, to tackle this film, which was based on Asne Seierstad’s book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — and its Aftermath. But it makes sense when you think about everything that’s happened around the world, past Norway’s borders in the seven intervening years since Breivik’s act. The extreme anti-immigration rhetoric Breivik advocates and gave as the reason for killing dozens of children was seen as an abhorrence to a liberal democracy like Norway — it was pure horror. But we now live in a world where that kind of hate speech is finding more platforms and supporters, to the point it can drive news agendas and mainstream discourse. Greengrass gives “Breivik” a chance to speak his mind (though judiciously), the kind of words that, when challenged by people who still remember their humanity and decency, are defended as “free speech” and “anti-political correctness”. It’s terrifying. So when Greengrass positions those words next to a madman who committed a grotesque and violent act, it’s a timely, frightening reminder of the direction Western democracies have gone since July 22, 2011, especially when Breivik warns “there will be others”.

Our Grade: C+, Make no mistake, this is a distressing film. The sight of young teenagers cowering in fear from a madman’s gun, and the knowledge that this isn’t some perverse make-believe horror movie but that it happened for real, is frightening. The film is not an easy piece to watch but it’s one you should consider giving your time to.

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Lee Rothery Written by: