Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.
Release Date: October 10th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Greengrass Actors: Jonas Strand Gravli, Jon Øigarden, Anders Danielsen Lie, Maria Bock, Thorbjørn Harr, Isak Bakli Aglen, Seda Witt
n July 21st, 2011, on a farm east of Oslo, Norway, Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) crafts some crude fertilizer explosives and loads them into his van. The following day, he drops the vehicle off at a parking lot next to the Prime Minister’s office, where it detonates, causing severe damage, taking the lives of eight people. He then drives to Utoya Island, where he begins a rampage against a summer camp, slaughtering another 69 unsuspecting employees and children. At both sites, more than 300 people are wounded.
Anyone familiar with the headlines or the history of this true event will know what’s coming in these opening moments. Either way, there’s still a nauseating build to the initial detonation, made more nerve-wracking by random people and security guards who wander past the parked van. What follows is more traumatic still, utilizing a staggering intensity in the depictions of dozens of teenagers being gunned down. The realism is undeniable; it’s as if viewers are inserted right in the midst of a school shooting. And one of the scariest components involves Breivik dressing up in police gear and using this disguise to gain trust and access to Utoya Island – something that could easily confound the most wary of administrators.
The film proceeds to examine how the government handles the situation, how medical teams respond, how the media covers the aftermath, how legal teams assemble, and how so many average people cope after getting caught up in such a horrific incident. Although writer/director Paul Greengrass thrusts audiences into the heart of the scenario before eventually chronicling the political climate and the motives for the terrorist attack (Anders’ sparse words during the shooting do exposit his distaste for Marxists, liberals, and elites), the second half of the picture takes its time to get into all of the details, thoroughly recreating the police investigation, complete with primary victims and their families (including Viljar Hanssen, superbly played by Jonas Strand Gravli), the surgeons, the defense lawyer (Jon Øigarden as Geir Lippestad), the interrogators, and even key political figures. It’s here that the film intermittently grinds to a halt, putting in far too many characters, which dilutes the chaos and severity of the earlier tragedies.
Lengthy stretches of time are designated to recovery and grief and closure, which could have been presented with a sharper eye for editing. “22 July’s” comprehensiveness leans more toward a history lesson than a piece of eye-opening entertainment, though it’s nevertheless a significant, potent work that will surely hit close to home for many U.S. moviegoers. The themes are entirely universal.
Breivik’s arrogance, narcissism, calmness, and total lack of remorse are extremely chilling; it’s difficult to measure him up to other screen villains, considering that he’s a real figure. His heinous actions end up being the star of the film, perhaps more than any of the individual stories that garner attention toward the conclusion (the actors never feel like they’re acting, however, which further contributes to the numbing realism). As a mass-shooter-procedural, everyone appears as supporting roles next to the revolting nature of the murderer and his deeds. Of course, just as shocking is the revelation that some citizens sympathize with his extremist views, finding ways to rationalize or outright agree with his stance (a dissection of his ideology consumes a portion of the last act, realizing his need for recognition and support from likeminded right-wingers). He’s a monster, but he’s not alone. Ultimately, the film may be overlong, with extraneous sequences of public and political repercussions of failing to stop the attack, and of careful documentation of the trial, but this emotional account is woefully timely and perpetually relevant.
– Mike Massie