Wednesday, October 10, 2018

On Netflix: 22 JULY (2018)

(US - 2018)

Written and directed by Paul Greengrass. Cast: Jonas Strand Gravli, Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Oigarden, Maria Bock, Thorbjorn Harr, Seda Witt, Isak Bakli Aglen, Ola G. Furuseth, Monica Borg Fure, Matthias Eckhoff, Hilde Olausson, Lena Kristin Ellingsen, Tone Danielson, Tomas Gudbjartsson. (R, 143 mins)

After returning to the BOURNE franchise with 2016's decent but generally forgettable JASON BOURNE, British filmmaker Paul Greengrass revisits the harrowing, you-are-there immediacy of 2002's BLOODY SUNDAY, 2006's UNITED 93, and 2013's CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, with the Netflix Original film 22 JULY, chronicling the July 22, 2011 terror attacks in Oslo, Norway. Orchestrated by far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik (played here by Anders Danielsen Lie), the attacks began with an Oklahoma City-like truck bombing with fertilizer and aluminum nitrate in the Oslo business district near the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), and continued when a fleeing Breivik, wearing a police uniform, took a ferry to the island of Utoya and committed a mass shooting at a leadership camp for Norwegian teenagers. Between the Oslo bombing and the Utoya massacre, 77 were killed and 200 injured, the purpose of which is detailed in Breivik's 1500-page manifesto decrying what he sees as Norway's lenient immigration policies and the spread of Islam through Europe, with the Utoya camp being targeted to stop the next generation of "Marxists, liberals, and elites."

The opening 30 minutes are riveting, visceral, and horrifying. The cold, dead glare in Lie's eyes as Breivik methodically prepares to set the truck bomb and calmly talks his way onto the ferry to Utoya before mowing down scores of screaming teens is absolutely chilling and this extended sequence represents Greengrass at his strongest and most unflinching. But once Breivik is in custody, 22 JULY turns more formulaic, to its detriment. Greengrass cuts back and forth between Breivik and his reluctant defense attorney Geir Lippestad (Jon Oigarden, a dead ringer for Uwe Boll), chosen because he successfully defended a neo-Nazi in a case a decade earlier, and Utoya survivor Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), who was shot five times, once in the head with an exploding bullet leaving fragments in his skull that surgeons were unable to completely remove. We're shown Hanssen's grueling road to recovery, which includes intense physical therapy and a significant case of PTSD. Gravli is fine in these scenes, but the more they go on, the more 22 JULY gets bogged down in melodrama, which doesn't play to Greengrass' strengths as a director. That's not to say Greengrass isn't capable of handling gut-wrenching drama (Tom Hanks does the best acting of his career in that final scene of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) or that Hanssen's story isn't worth telling, but the arc he undergoes is something we've seen numerous times before, from the mood swings, to the self-destructive lashing out, to the simmering resentment of his younger brother (Isak Bakli Aglen), who made it off Utoya without being physically harmed, but whose own psychological trauma has become a distant second priority with their parents (Maria Bock, Thorbjorn Harr). That same predictable story arc goes for Oigarden's Lippestad as well. He's disgusted by Brievik and his reprehensible views, and doesn't want to defend him, but it's his job, and you know it's only a matter of time before he's getting late-night phone calls threatening his family.

Gravli delivers a committed performance, but one can't help noting Greengrass' missed opportunity in not focusing his attention on Brievik, terrifyingly underplayed by Lie with a narcissistic sociopath's level of non-emotion. When he's being interrogated, he's munching on pizza and asks to pause the questioning to get a Band-Aid for a small cut on his thumb that he got when it was scratched by a piece of someone's shattering skull ("I'm worried it might get infected," he says, barely stifling a smirk). There's a stomach-in-knots urgency to the early scenes of 22 JULY that dissipates after the attacks, leaving the remainder of the film a sometimes laborious slog clocking in at a bloated 143 minutes. Netflix obviously gave Greengrass the freedom to make the film he wanted to make, and it's helpful that the Norwegian cast (speaking English, which isn't a dealbreaker) is almost completely unknown to American audiences (though Kristen Stewart fans might recognize Lie from Olivier Assayas' acclaimed PERSONAL SHOPPER), but wouldn't it be a better film if it was a ZODIAC-like procedural or an almost real-time chronicle like UNITED 93? There's a couple of throwaway mentions of Norwegian authorities being lax in their duties and no one noticing any red flags when Breivik purchased a massive amount of fertilizer and other chemicals seven months before the attack. Wouldn't that have been a good starting point for an examination of this horrific event?  It doesn't yet have a US distributor, but there's a competing Norwegian film that opened in Europe several months ago titled U - 22 JULY, depicting the 72-minute Utoya massacre and its immediate aftermath in real time. That's the kind of film you'd think Greengrass would've made. He did for the first 30 minutes, but the rest of the movie feels like it could've been made by anyone.

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