How soon is too soon? That’s a question that looms like a dark cloud over 22 July, Paul Greengrass’ faithfully grim re-enactment of the bloody 2011 massacre of 77 people in Norway by a deranged right-wing extremist. The film is as tense and as well-made as you’d expect from the director of Captain Phillips and the best of the Jason Bourne movies. But coming just seven years after the senseless slaughter, the psychological wounds still seem awfully fresh to dramatize with such detailed precision. Especially to Scandinavian audiences, where violence of this scale is uncommonly rare.
Greengrass, of course, has been down this ripped-from-the-headlines path before. In 2006, he directed United 93 – a white-knuckle, tick-tock thriller procedural about the hijacked flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on 9/11. But that film was more forensic and matter of fact than 22 July, which piles on more melodrama to its clinical replay. It’s still a harrowingly effective movie, to be sure. But it’s also more of an emotionally manipulative one, too.
Adapted from a book by journalist Asne Seierstad, the Netflix feature is constructed in real time (at least the gripping first half) as a troubled young homegrown Norwegian terrorist named Anders Behring Breivik (a chilly, banality-of-evil Anders Danielsen Lie) loads a van full of fertilizer and parks it near the prime minister’s office in Oslo. His grievance is his country’s open-armed acceptance of refugees and foreigners, who he believes are poisoning Norway’s identity. The bomb explodes, killing eight people. Then, he sets off for his second – and far deadlier – act of mayhem that day.
Breivik, who’s dressed in a police uniform, drives outside of the city and takes a ferry to the remote and idyllic Utoya island, home to a summer camp for teenagers – the sons and daughters of the country’s elite. Hauling two large cases full of high-caliber guns, he cold-bloodedly shoots the fleeing campers one at a time in a nonchalant spasm of blood, bullets, and chaos. Sixty-nine of them would soon be dead. More than 200 others would be left injured and scarred for life.
Greengrass, who also wrote the film, toggles back and forth between Breivik, the stunned Norwegian prime minster (Ola G. Furuseth), and one victim in particular, Viljar Hanssen (A terrific Jonas Strand Gravli), who was shot several times and faced a torturous rehabilitation before eventually testifying against the madman in court. Taken together, the film is kaleidoscopic, sober, and also a bit glib. 22 July is exceptionally choreographed and tough to sit through, but it also leaves an uneasy, bitter aftertaste knowing that the movie is probably exactly the kind of continued attention a deranged narcissist like Breivik would have wanted. B-