“I wanted to hit them where it hurt the most.”
Focusing in on the raw intensity that comes with any terrorist attack, Paul Greengrass delivers a sucker punch to the gut with his reenactment of the mass shooting at a leadership camp for teens in his harrowing docudrama 22 July.
Projecting an unusual sense of unapologetic realness, Greengrass effectively transports his audience to the city of Oslo on July 22, 2011. Throughout the first portion of the film, we witness the events of that day, following far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik as he sets off a bomb near a government building downtown before heading to an island that houses teens for a summer leadership camp.
The events play out in extreme simplicity, with little to no dialogue. Greengrass doesn’t over embellish or under explain. Instead, he approaches each scene with flawless precision, capturing the fear and uncertainty as a group of teenagers begins to realize the dire situation and take off, running for their life. At the end of it all 77 people lay dead, another 200 injured. Though many films of this nature would end there, 22 July is only just beginning.
Transitioning from a heart-pounding thriller to a psychological drama, Greengrass opts to further the discussion surrounding these unsettling events. Instead of leaving us all in a state of anger he takes us through the process as we witness the country of Norway, distraught over the acts of violence, handle the situation with class, opting to focus their energy on the positive and countering the hate with a strict and stern affirmation of its moral principles.
Though the film follows several storylines, after the violence, we become most focused on Viljar, a teenager from the leadership camp who finds himself in the hospital after being shot five times and left for dead on the island beach. It is his journey that we follow most closely as he works to overcome the odds and bring a sense of justice to this tragedy. The character is portrayed by Jonas Strand Gravli, who successfully captures the paranoia and determination that metaphorically represents the better part of Norway.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Anders Danielsen Lie’s haunting portrayal of extremist Breivik. Breivik, who never denies the responsibility of the attacks, is a complex character on the surface; however, once he starts talking about his beliefs and ideologies, you instinctively feel a sense of hatred stem from his core. Credit Lie’s performance for bringing such a vile human to life with such fluidity, even if it's a character who's hard to watch.
Though the film is rich in complexity as it begs for a post-credit discussion, Greengrass loses points with his decision to take the film's story in a mainstream direction. Shot in English with Norwegian actors, the film fails to escape the clichés that often come with procedural cinema. Though the heart and soul are present here, and the real story depiction adds an extra layer of perceived authenticity, you can’t help but feel that you've seen and heard this all before.
I will acknowledge that the stellar direction and inspiring cinematography helps to bring the story to life in vivid detail, and the decision to not focus in on the acts, but rather the aftermath, does give it a sense of uniqueness. However, that uniqueness is short lived. Don’t get me wrong, I loved 22 July; however, you cannot deny the popcorn flair that exists within its bounds. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that warrants a mention.