Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Movie Review: 22 July

22 July **** / *****
Directed by: Paul Greengrass.
Written by: Paul Greengrass based on the book by Åsne Seierstad.
Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie (Anders Behring Breivik), Jonas Strand Gravli (Viljar), Jon Øigarden (Geir Lippestad), Seda Witt (Lara), Thorbjørn Harr (Sveinn),  Joakim Skarli (Knut Arne Pettersen , Paramedic), Kenan Ibrahimefendic (Dr. Kolberg), Trim Balaj (Odd Ivar Grøn), Anja Maria Svenkerud (Siv Hallgren), Ola G. Furuseth (Jens Stoltenberg), Maria Bock (Christin), Isak Bakli Aglen (Torje), Ingrid Enger Damon (Alexandra Bech Gjørv), Trygve Svindland (Justice Minister), Ulrikke Hansen Døvigen (Inga Bejer Engh), Hasse Lindmo (Svein Holden), Monica Borg Fure (Monica Bøsei), Turid Gunnes (Mette Larsen), Tone Danielsen (Judge Wenche Arntzen), Sonja Sofie Sinding (Lycke).
There was a lot of healthy – and not unwarranted – skepticism about Paul Greengrass making the film 22 July, which depicts the events of that day in Norway in 2011 when Anders Behrig Breikik, first set off a bomb with the goal of bringing down the Norwegian government, and then in the confusion that followed, posed as a policeman and travelled to the island of Utoya, where he stalked a summer camp full of teenagers with his high powered gun, killing 77 and wounding more than 200. Greengrass is the same director who made United 93 after all, and while that film garnered a lot of praise – and an Oscar nomination for Greengrass’ direction – the idea of spending an entire movie with a killer stalking teenagers in a mass shooting in Greengrass’ signature “you are there” style, especially given how often that happens in real life, was not one many wanted to sit through. And while many will still not want to sit through this film – which is understandable – I will say that I think Greengrass is smart enough to have not made the entire film about the assault. That’s the first (harrowing) 30 minutes – and then the film becomes about the aftermath – how warning signs were missed, but also how a society treats someone like Breivik, who is both so clearly evil, but also clearly human. How, even when it’s difficult, a country has to stick to its own sense of morality and justice.
I won’t sugarcoat it, that first 30 minutes is as difficult to watch as anything you will see this year. After a few scenes of Breivik gathering his weaponry – and the obligatory scenes to introduce us to the other plays in the film, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and the Hanssen family, who will have two sons on the island of Utoya, Greengrass dives into the chaos of that day – first the explosion that causes so much destruction and confusion in Oslo, and then what happened on Utoya, when Breivik talks his way onto the island, and then just starts killing people. Yelling at them that they are going to die today “All you Marxists, liberals, children of the elite”, he methodically sets about shooting any and every one he comes across. The most harrowing section is on the beach, where the two Hanssen brothers are hiding – but of course will be found. When the police finally get there, Breivik surrenders without a fuss – he doesn’t want to die – he wants to ensure he gets his day in court. He wants to ensure that everyone knows exactly why he did what he did. He is not a criminal, in his mind, but rather a solider in a war for the heart of Norway – and Europe – which he perceives as being under attack by Islam, immigration and forced multi-culturism.
The rest of the film then really does proceed on three different tracts. On one, Breivik is brought to trail – he is represented by Geir Lippestad, a good lawyer, who doesn’t know why Breivik requested him, but is under obligation to try and defend him anyway. He does a good job – but it’s clear he isn’t overly enthusiastic about doing it. The legal system itself is much the same – they want to ensure that Breivik gets what he is entitled too, but do not want to let him re-traumatize the victims – and really – the whole country by doing so. When they first capture Breivik, they are concerned about a third attack, since he talks about being a soldier – but then he makes it clear that the trail itself will be the third attack. As it progresses though, it becomes clear it won’t go the way he wants it to – he hasn’t kick started the war he wanted to, instead, he looks like the pathetic loner he always has been. The other two tracts of the film deal with the political fallout on the Prime Minister – who, to his credit, doesn’t try and hide, and wants to know precisely what happened, and why they were unable to stop it. And finally, there is the story of the Hanssen family, in particular Viljar, who was shot five times on Utoya, but survived. He needs physical therapy to be able to do anything again –and still has bullet fragments in his skull that could kill him. Still, he wants to look strong when he has to go into court and face Breivik.
Greengrass’ film walks a fine line here – it wants to be about this story specifically, but also use it for broader context. There is a reason Greengrass chose to use an all Norwegian cast, but have them speak in accented English – this story is both Norwegian, and universal. What Breivik stood for is at the heart of many mass shootings, and violence, around the world right now. In its own weird way, this is an inspiring story, not because of the survivors (although that too), but because it shows a way through this madness and violence, without succumbing to it – without becoming something evil to fight evil. This is a hard film to watch – many won’t want to. But for those who can, it contains a powerful message.

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