Powerful and potent, Paul Greengrass’s harrowing account of the terror attacks in Norway on 22 July, 2011, confronts one of the worst mass shootings in history.
Between instalments of the Bourne franchise, director Paul Greengrass has established himself as a master at dramatizing real-life tragedy. Possessed of an uncanny ability to scrape away at the glossy patina of the headlines in order to unpick the truth beneath, his films, from Bloody Sunday and United 93 to Captain Phillips, are rigorous, uncompromising and intense. Netflix’s 22 July is no different.
On that fateful titular date in 2011, Anders Behring Breivik (here played by Anders Danielsen Lie) killed 77 people; eight in a car bomb in Oslo, and a further 69 teenagers at a summer camp on the island of Utøya. His motive was in no small part the promotion of a crazy, militant far-right manifesto that blamed European cultural suicide on Islam, “Cultural Marxism” and feminism.
Filmed in English with mostly Norwegian actors, Greengrass’s script is cleverly balanced, able to use personal stories to evoke broader ones, and parallel the recovery of an individual with that of a nation. Wisely choosing to keep his re-enactment of the tragedy itself relatively brief and matter-of-fact, Greengrass avoids sensationalism and positions his recounting as one not just of a terrorist attack, but the cultural, legal and political maelstrom that emerges from one.
22 July focuses on several individuals, most notably teen survivor Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli) and Breivik’s appointed lawyer Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden), and through them the film even-handedly addresses hot-button issues such as political extremism, national fear of immigration, the rule of law and the right to due process – even for delusional mass-murderers like Breivik. And it’s in Brevik (and Anders Danielsen Lie’s chilling performance) that Greengrass finds his most potent sequences. Netflix’s 22 July is brutal without being tasteless and thoughtful without proselytising; a terrifying and terrific film, and one that, thanks to its global release on Netflix, will – and should – be seen by as many people as possible.