The one element you don’t expect going into this film is politics. However, Paul Greengrass’ latest delves into patriotism, fascism, and political ramifications surrounding the terrorist attacks that shook Norway (and the world) to its core in July 2011. From beginning to end, “22 July” is an unrelenting film that shows us almost every detail of Anders Breivik’s horrific assault on Norway – from the bombing in Oslo to the mass shooting at a summer camp. As usual for Greengrass, the shaky camera doesn’t shy away from bloodshed or trauma. This is a harrowing watch, and it’s bold (to say the least) to show Breivik’s rampage from start to finish. Once the graphic external violence ends though, we’re led into an internally violent storyline. This includes Breivik’s ideologies, his surviving victims’ tortured minds, and the clash of government and far-right racism.
Breivik’s ideology is the definition of extreme right-wing fascism that the world needs to fear. While some may champion “22 July” as timely, the xenophobia expressed in this film is nothing close to the rhetoric of President Trump. Breivik believed in expulsion and extermination of liberals from Norway, and this especially included Muslim refugees. The 69 people he killed at the camp were part of the Norwegian Labour Party, and he targeted them as “liberals” and “socialists” who supported inclusive legislation. It’s a political film from the get-go.
But what shows growth and change in Greengrass’ style is the fact that the shooting is only one fourth of the movie. “United 93” (2006), arguably his best film, chronicles the journey of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th from start to finish, ending as the plane crashes into a Pennsylvania field. “Captain Phillips” (2013) does likewise, focusing on the capture and rescue of Richard Phillips without dwelling too much on foreign policy, piracy, or terror abroad in 2009. “22 July,” on the other hand, puts a heavy focus on the aftermath of Breivik’s attack. It thrives on discussions of patriotism and unity, instead of implying it by watching acts of heroism. By the end of the movie, you should feel heavy but hopeful. Norway stood together as a nation to fight a brutal terrorist; even Breivik’s lawyer (Jon Oigarden) refuses to show respect to his client. “22 July” hits the emotional angle as well, using Viljar Hanssen’s (played by Jonas Strand Gravli) injuries and battle with PTSD to tug at the heartstrings and give patriotic courage a face.
By the courtroom and rehabilitation scenes, we’re mostly past the shaky cinematography that comes with a Paul Greengrass film. Instead, he wants the story to impact us emotionally, not draw us more into the grisly realism. Aesthetically pleasing shots therefore appear, such Hanssen staring at a beautiful mountain range or Breivik framed by the walls of his prison cell.
While it’s a bit of a slow film, “22 July” demonstrates modern extremism in a disturbing light, but demonstrates a nation’s courage with just as much force.