Dienstag, 25. Dezember 2018

22 July

Over the course of his almost 30-year career, Paul Greengrass, even though probably best known for his series of Jason Bourne thrillers, has fashioned himself into cinema's premier expert for what could be termed "fact-based atrocity procedurals." Since his 1989 debut, the Englishman has covered egregious police misconduct (Open Fire), racist hate crimes (The Murder of Stephen Lawrence), the Northern Irish Troubles (Bloody Sunday, Omagh), 9/11 (United 93), the Iraq War (Green Zone), and Somalia-based piracy (Captain Phillips) in his trademark style of fast-paced immediacy.

Going into 22 July, Greengrass' take on the 2011 Norway attacks, in which far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik (played here by Anders Danielsen Lie) killed 77 people, with this back catalogue in mind might prove disorienting, however. In fact, those who expect the Netflix-produced film to be a fly-on-the-wall documentary thriller focused on the event itself, something in the vein of United 93 – which dramatised one of the 11 September plane hijackings –, will be in for a surprise: Breivik's highly publicised massacres – the detonation of a car bomb in downtown Oslo and a shooting spree on Utøya Island, the site of a Labour Party-organised summer camp for teenagers – take up just 30 minutes of the 143-minute film.

The rest of the runtime concerns itself with the political, legal, and emotional fallout of Breivik's crimes. While Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth) calls for an inquiry into how the events of 22 July 2011 could happen, left-leaning lawyer Geir Lippestad (Jon Øjgarden) grapples with Breivik handpicking him as his defender in court. And then there's Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), an Utøya attendee who barely escapes the attack with his life and who now faces an uncertain future.

Presumably spurred by Erik Poppe's Utøya: 22 July (2018) depicting the island attack in real time, it's a curious but by no means unwelcome move on Greengrass' part – more welcome, in any case, than his decision to have his Norwegian actors speak English, which is never less than at least slightly awkward. Shining the spotlight on the aftermath rather than on the bloodshed feels like the logical extension to the end of Captain Phillips (2013), which served as a stark reminder that a traumatic incident doesn't end when the last shot has been fired.

On 22 July, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) killed 77 people in two coordinated terrorist attacks.
© Netflix
22 July does well to point out the multi-faceted impact the 2011 attacks had on Norwegian society and what their significance were in the broader context – a far-right side character Lippestad interviews on Breivik's behalf even slips in the term "alt-right." However, it's a different question altogether whether Greengrass' adaptation of Åsne Seierstad's non-fiction book One of Us, does justice to all of its narrative strands.

Although Ola G. Furuseth gives an arresting performance as Prime Minister Stoltenberg, he is underserved by a script that is noticeably unsure what to do with him, as his main function for the majority of the film is to keep in the background and let the public inquiry run its course. Thus, the audience is left waiting, along with a powerful yet largely inactive character, for the completion of the inquiry's decidedly uncinematic work.

But whereas the political drama of 22 July proves to be a bit of a bust, the legal chamber play that plays alongside it fares much better. Greengrass' unflinching, records-based dramatisation of Breivik's violent, ideological narcissism makes for some of the film's most disturbing moments – such as when Breivik, after being arrested, asks for medical attention because he cut his finger on of his victims' fractured skull.

Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli) is one of the survivors of Breivik's massacre.
© Netflix
The introduction of Geir Lippestad is a dramatic relief, but his captivatingly written verbal sparring with his client does little to counteract Breivik's grandstanding, which is, admittedly, in keeping with the lawyer's convictions: if the state did not give a fair hearing to a mass murderer, it would renounce the very democratic ideals he wants to topple. The movie translates this into a fairly well executed humanisation of its terrorist figure – though there is a lingering sense of the script, and Anders Danielsen Lie's frighteningly excellent portrayal, giving him an unduly prominent platform. It certainly is an interesting contrast to Poppe's Utøya, which made a point of relegating Breivik to a marginal figure.

Interestingly, the film's most successful element is the one that would most comfortably fit into a stereotypical Hollywood disaster narrative. Together with his mother, Svalbard politician Christin Kristoffersen (Maria Bock), young Viljar Hanssen, who narrowly survives the five gunshot wounds Breivik inflicts on him, forms 22 July's emotional core. Here, carried by two affecting performances, Greengrass' hit-and-miss script delivers a touching drama about working through trauma, grief, and survivor's guilt, which could also have worked as a film of its own.

In fact, most parts of 22 July may have reached their true potential if they had been addressed in individual works. In trying to offer a panoptic view of the Norway attacks, Greengrass has crafted an intriguing but overlong procedural that is at once heavy on details and lacking in depth. Thematically, it snugly fits into the Greengrass œuvre, but it probably won't go down as one of his major creations.

★★★

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