Turning to the streaming service Netflix, my "Movies 101" partners and I chose to watch Paul Greengrass' intense study of the tragic events that befell the citizens of Oslo, Norway, on July 22, 2011, titled simply "22 July." I then wrote a separate review of the film for Spokane Public Radio:
Everyone remembers 9/11. But who remembers 22 July? Yet it was on that date in 2011 when a man – I purposely won’t mention his name – ruthlessly murdered 77 people and wounded more than 300 more in and around Norway’s capital city of Oslo.
First he placed a bomb near Oslo’s government offices. Even before the explosives went off – killing eight but missing a major target, Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg – the man was driving to a nearby island where teenagers were congregating at a summer camp. There the killing continued.
It’s far from a pretty story but one, if we’re being honest, that is becoming more and more common across the world – especially here in the United States.
And it’s a story that attracted the attention of Paul Greengrass, the filmmaker most famous for directing two Jason Bourne films – 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy” and 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
But Greengrass has another specialty, too. He adapts real-life events for the big screen, centering on the individuals involved and how what occurs affects all their lives.
2013’s “Captain Phillips” tells the story of a cargo ship’s crew being waylaid by Somali pirates. 2006’s “United 93” takes us inside the 9/11 plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field. 2002’s “Bloody Sunday” details the day – January 30, 1972 – in Derry, Ireland, when a peaceful march ended with British soldiers shooting 28 unarmed protesters, killing 14.
And now we have the simply but aptly titled “22 July,” in which writer-director Greengrass – adapting the nonfiction book by Asne Seierstad – handles the Norway murders in much the same manner. By which I mean he re-creates the incident as it happened, acquainting us not just with the man behind the crime but also some of the victims the killer ends up targeting.
Here, though, is the difference. Only half the film is about the incident itself. The second half deals with the aftermath. We see the murderer (played by the intense Anders Danielson Lie), insisting that he is a soldier on a mission, being defended – albeit reluctantly – by a well-known Oslo attorney.
And we have one of the victims, Viljar Hanssen (played by Jonas Strand Gravli), who struggles not only to recover both physically and emotionally from being shot five times – but also to summon up the courage to face his would-be killer in court.
This, then, is the key to Greengrass’ film. The actual crime – or more accurately series of crimes – is portrayed realistically, graphic but not gratituitous, and carries with it an inherent sense of tension that makes “22 July” seem more like a documentary than a narrative film.
The court scenes, on the other hand, are necessarily slower and more meditative, whether we’re listening to the murderer attempt to justify his actions or watching young Hanssen forced to relive his nightmare in public.
Yet finally, Greengrass focuses on hope, on the message that a united front against hate is, in the end, the best way to fight back. And that’s a message that needs to be stated clearly – now more than ever.