How soon is too soon to make drama out of tragedy is a question that Hollywood has long wrestled with. 22 July director Paul Greengrass knows this terrain perhaps better than anyone, helming United 93 just five years after 9/11. Now, seven years on from the horrific Anders Breivik attacks in Norway, Greengrass has tackled these incomprehensible events.
Where the Norwegian-language U-July 22 focused exclusively on the Utoya island attack itself, 22 July expands the scope, following the personal, legal, and political fallout of the murders. It avoids ghoulishness, the shooting itself still a viscerally frightening part of the film, but not dwelt upon with any sort of grim or gory fascination.
At nearly two and half hours, 22 July has some notable dips in its pace, and the choice to have Norwegian actors speak English is distracting, pushing you away from the reality of the situation. A Death of Stalin-esque usage of English and American actors with their natural accents would probably have felt tasteless though, so perhaps it is too soon for English-language auteurs to be tackling the event.
The friendships between the survivors are well drawn in a limited space of time, a credit to both Greengrass’s script and the young actors. As Breivik, Anders Danielsen Lie has a tough task and he rises to it, not seeking to overly humanise this monster, but bringing a dark, compelling confidence to the role.
To condemn Breivik is hardly a political statement in and of itself, but 22 July makes sure to affirm the complicity of the alt-right and their poisonous ideology in the 77 deaths at his hands. A final speech about love and togetherness in the face of hatred is on the nose, but still a satisfying rejection of this terrifying, yet pathetic, man.
CAST: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Øigarden, Jonas Strand Gravli, Seda Witt
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
WRITERS: Paul Greengrass, Asne Seierstad (book One of Us)
SYNOPSIS: Told in three parts, 22 July focuses on right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 young people attending a Labour Party Youth Camp on Utøya Island outside of Oslo, Norway.