‘22 July’ is shocking, stirring, it’s heart wrenching, unsettling and hard to wrap your mind around. Greengrass is best known for making several of the ‘Bourne’ films and ‘United 93’ which was a real-time account of United Flight 93, the plane that was hijacked on 9/11, but crashed due to passengers willing to take drastic measures to stop the terrorists in their tracks. ‘22 July’ is, again, the story of a terrorist’s actions as he carries out brutal killings only this time it’s a right-wing extremist named Anders Behring Breivik, played very coolly by Anders Danielsen Lie, in 2011 near Oslo Norway, who feels that he, as a white man, is being discriminated against.
He attacks what he refers to as a political summer camp which is located on an isolated island. He sees this camp as a place where the ‘Marxist, Liberals and members of the elite’ send their children to learn to accept minorities.
Dressed as a police officer, he packs guns, plenty of ammo and explosives and leaves the house. He drives a van near the Prime Minister’s office and parks. He gets out, lights a fuse, and slyly walks down the street where he easily slips into another vehicle and drives away, headed for the teenagers who await their fate like sitting ducks. He gets onto the island where the children are and starts, one by one, picking them off. They run but he knows there is absolutely nowhere for them to go. He’ll get them all eventually.
The explosion is well done, along with the confusion in its aftermath, but watching the children run screaming is brutal. Anders goes into a building where people are hiding and tells them, ‘You will die today!’ It’s hard not to put yourself in that scenario once you start thinking of how often murder in the name of someone’s beliefs goes on in this world.
One child, Viljar, gets a call off to his mother to tell her what has happened. She’s involved in politics and was near the explosion so she’s able to alert the police about what her son informed her of and they head to the island immediately. An intense scene shows us that, sadly, Anders is still shooting and gravely injures Viljar. When he’s found by his parents, he’s only clinging to life. Greengrass does a beautiful job of making all the events seem as realistic as possible. What follows is how these people restore their lives in the wake of such a tragedy but on top of that, being very much alive, the gunman has ways to still twist the knife. He doesn’t care about his victims, he tells his lawyer, Geir Lippestad, he would do it all again for the cause. He also tells Geir his demands or a third attack will be coming. He wants the liquidation of the political camp and a ban on immigration. This is where my interest was piqued even more. I knew of this story but it so parallels what’s happening in my own country today which makes it more relevant than I thought it would be.
It’s frightening to take a good hard look at certain activities in our world, but I rather like that films are bringing these subjects to light. It’s important not to hide racism and pretend it’s not going on.
The rest of the film is court filings, Viljar’s struggle to come back from what happened to him and the Prime Minister realizing where he went wrong. All of this is notably well done. It’s an explosive, captivating story of good versus evil with meaningful dialogue and pacing that doesn’t bore. Don’t think for one minute you have to see it on the big screen to appreciate it. Netflix is doing more and more and with this proves they’ll continue to get better and better. But if you’re lucky enough to be in a city where it’s coming out… it would be good to experience it that way.
In case you were curious, the only reason ‘22 July’ didn’t get a higher score is for the few times it felt as if it went a little long and one other mistake that writer/director Paul Greengrass made, which was crucial, and that’s where we first find ourselves in the story. Coming in at two hours and twenty-three minutes, he captured us by getting straight to the meat of the matter. That said, to the viewers, it felt as if he had nowhere to go but down. Turns out that it’s quite enough to be considered a must-see, but had he stretched out the action a bit… had the action happened a little later in the film, instead initially introduced to us some of the characters, it wouldn’t have become the long-lasting drama it felt it became. Then again, maybe this was done on purpose because what these Norwegians endured didn’t end with Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre of seventy-seven people, not to mention the hundreds of others he injured. The slaughter was only the beginning.
*22 JULY will debut Wednesday, October 10th globally in select theaters and on Netflix.