No stranger to terrorism, filmmaker Paul Greengrass turns to Norway and tells the story of the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history in 22 July.
For citizens in Norway, July 22, 2011 started out like any ordinary day. Nothing out of the usual was happening but things soon got bloody. When a far-right extremist detonated a car bomb in Oslo, some 77 people would lose their lives. If this wasn’t enough, there would be a mass shooting at a camp for teens with another 66 lives lost. All we can do is feel sympathy for the victims and their families.
Rather than tell a narrative that focuses on several people, Greengrass grounds the narrative by mainly focusing on one survivor, Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). There’s also Geir Lippestad’s (Jon Øigarden) defense of the cowardly attacker* (Anders Danielsen Lie). Throw in another briefly explored narrative with the government failure of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth). With these sort of films, it’s always hard in deciding how to tell the story. Do you focus on first responders, the government reaction, survivors, or families of the victims? What Greengrass does is focus more so on what happens after the attack. The way that Norway responds to the attacks shows how much they care about democracy. They didn’t respond in a way that would make the situation worse.
The thing I ask myself is this: will telling their story provide closure? Will telling their story prevent other attacks from happening? Or will it lead to copycats? I don’t have the answers to these questions nor do I claim to. I do know from our own history in America that it’s tough to watch anything related to September 11, 2011 without playing Coldplay’s “Fix You” on an endless loop to get out of the depression. Okay, I digress but you get the idea. I can’t up but want to know how the people of Norway feel about this film.
While I don’t doubt that Paul Greengrass had good intentions in making 22 July, it’s not an easy watch. I say this not so much because of the content but rather a mix of pacing and run time. The only thing worse than a film that runs 2.5 hours is a film with a slow pace. It’s this slow pacing that prevents us from truly being able to get into an enjoy the film. I should note that I watched this film as a screener on my television via an HDMI cable. Do I think seeing this film in theaters where my cell phone is put away would make a difference? Probably but the Chicago press screening was on a Jewish holiday and I was not able to attend.
While 22 July attempts to do right by Viljar Hanssen, there’s also the question of whether or not it’s too soon to relive the attacks.
* denotes that I refuse to print their name. Terrorists who plan these attacks really should not be rewarded by everyone remembering their name. Nor should they be rewarded for having their faces plastered all over the media.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Paul Greengrass
CAST: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Øigarden, Jonas Strand Gravli, Maria Bock, Thorbjørn Harr, Ola G. Furuseth, Seda Witt, Isak Bakli Aglen