22 JULY Review: Textbook Greengrass Realism
By John Avs
Paul Greengrass’ style is as close to an authentic recreation of anything he directs. We saw this most evidently in UNITED 93 and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and with 22 JULY he is again documenting another real life terrorist attack, which stands next to the best films in his filmography.
Known to the world as the 2011 Norway Attacks, 22 JULY recreates Norway’s worst terrorist attack when an alt-right terrorist killed over seventy people with an explosion in Oslo and a shooting spree at a summer camp on the island of Utøya. The film is told from through three separate individuals: the lawyer forced into protecting the terrorist (Jon Øigarden), the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), and shooting survivor Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). Greengrass uses actors who the average movie watcher would not recognize adding even more realism.
Greengrass has taken quite a few hits over the years in regards to his shaky cam work. He uses it to make raw sequences feel even rawer, but often it can make an image incomprehensible. With 22 JULY Greengrass has polished his hand held camera work as he expertly creates a sense of space which is felt throughout. Never once do you feel out of the situation. He gives an as realistic representation of these events and takes it a step further. The audience exists in this reality. Every moment is felt.
Though this is possibly Greengrass best directorial work since UNITED 93, what he put on the page is what is most compelling. It starts with a 40 minute recreation of the actual attacks. It is one of the more disturbing first acts you will ever see. Then we are immediately asked the question: how should we respond? In America, this guy would be directly sat in the electric chair. Norway is different. We watch as a nation who has never experienced anything this catastrophic and evil, try to stick to their morals and laws. The terrorist uses their forbearing nature against them to push his agenda. The fight to stick to what they believe is almost definitely lose-lose situation. Though some parts feel a bit “Hollywood” towards the end, how they come to terms is both a disheartening and beautiful experience.
This is a movie we need today. With terrorism as an everyday occurrence, the film asks if we react by changing who we are, will it only hurt the situation further? It is a question we all need to ponder and 22 JULY makes it all the more real.