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22 July : Paul Greengrass' new Triumph

22 July : Greengrass’s new triumph

“I didn’t want to portray the attacks, I wanted to show how Norway responded to them” Paul Greengrass in an interview to “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Paul Greengrass has been considered as one of the foremost talents in Hollywood for their shooting techniques, innovation in building an interactive storyline and documenting real life incidents like never before. Greengrass' credits include seminal works like The Bourne Films, United 93, Captain Phillips, The Green Zone etc. Each films is its own weight and Greengrass' signature style of moving the camera with the lead character is now a global standard. "22 July" produced by Netflix is Greengrass' latest effort documenting the Utoya Island shooting and the Prime Minister’s office Bombing in Norway in 2011 where over 69 school students were gunned down by a right wing extremist. The film is now streaming on Netflix in India and globally.

This is a short review of "22 July" and also talks about the Paul Greengrass style of story telling.

The Plot:

The film tells the story of the "2011 Norway attacks" on the 22nd July when right wing terrorist Anders Breivik orchestrated 2 terror attacks at the Prime Ministers office in Oslo and at a summer camp at Utoya Island which is not far from Oslo. The film is based on the book "One Of Us" by author Asne Saierstardt. The story is about the gruesome murders conducted by Breivik and how Norwegian society tries to adapt itself after such an incident. The film also talks about survivor Viljar Hannsen who gets badly shot in the massacre but miraculously lives on. The story talks in detail about how Viljar undergoes treatment and somehow with his determination and grit confronts Breivik in court. The story also focuses on Viljar’s mother who is a city Mayor and an influential politician. She distances herself from her work to focus on her son and his wellness. There are also supporting characters like Breivik’s lawyer who has an uphill task in defending Breivik who play a key role in the story and its development. The story also puts in perspective the evil mind of Breivik and his rationale behind conducting these atrocities. The film ends on a positive note.

WHY A SUBJECT LIKE "22 JULY" ? The NORWAY view of the world

Hollywood has seen numerous films showing high school shooting incidents like “Bowling For Columbine” , “April Showers” etc. Even today dozens of high school violence cases hit the headline. However, the reason why a story like July 22 is fascinating to engage in is that it happened in Norway. The story talks of a harrowing incident in a small country but what was more difficult was that a peace loving nation like Norway is hit by something like this. It talks more of how lives were affected by this rather than the attack itself. Most of these high school incidents are essentially depicting the problems of a certain ethnicity struggling to find its identity in the society. In the US, it is more rampant due to the gun ownership laws but Norway was an unlikely place where something like this took place. Breivik resented the Muslim immigrants in Europe and believed that globalization is the reason behind that and blamed the Marxists and liberals as elites who have created and endorsed this idea.

According to a survey done by the Norway Government in 2011 showed that 1 out of 4 Norwegians were affected by the attacks. Paul Greengrass has beautifully shown how parents and the citizens cope with a dastardly act like this. In some scenes there is just silence. In one scene where all parents gather together to meet with the authorities to discuss Breivik’s trial, a parent shouts “ He killed my son, just hang him to a tree”while the rest just keep quite. The silence itself plays out beautifully. The Film also chooses 2 protagonists wisely, one is the terrorist who commits the crime and the other is the victim whose life goes upside down in the event. In fact in scenes with both Viljar and Breivik show their own personal struggles. The film in many ways shows the deep ideological divide within the society even in a peace loving nation like Norway. It was documented in the media that these attacks were the worst terror attacks in Norway since the 2nd World War.


Paul Greengrass has outlined a clear strategy to bring authenticity to the storytelling of 22 July. He has made a film about “ the aftermath about the incident rather than the terror incident itself”. He has chosen a totally Norwegian cast with faces largely unknown to the global audience. He could have taken any a list actor but he chose new actors who speak English fluently. In many ways, it feels that all these actor are the original people who had gone through the attacks. This was a super strategy as the native actors being locals bought depth and reality to the film. Greengrass has given roughly 8-10 minutes to the whole attack in total in the film. The camera moves with Breivik who is a trained assassin and shows him giving sermons to all people before killing them. “All of you will die today as you are elites and Marxists” says Breivik. Greengrass in a way ensures that you are transported to Norway. The idea to make Breivik look more like an “intellectual” who has clarity of vision with no remorse is fascinating. He in fact calls himself a Neo Nazi. In the last scene Geir Lippestadt , lawyer for Breivik tells him “We will defeat you and your ideology” who is clearly seen uniting with the Norwegian people after he realizes the problem is bigger than Breivik. The film shows that a country known for the world’s most advanced high school education system is a bit more evolved in responding to such terror incidents. One can see that the film shows each and every character exhibiting restrain in most situations. The way the director creates the scene in which Viljar faces Breivik is quite prophetic.

A Particularly tough scene to shoot is when the Prime Minister meets the parents and confesses “ We could have been better in handling this and I am sorry for this”. A parent responds “ We all feel that this is not your mistake, it’s the assassin who is responsible for this”. Its these evolved thought processes which are all over the story and are truly uplifting.

The Cast:-

Anders Danielsen Lie as Breivik is masterful and makes the evil in Breivik real and believable. His stoic portrayal is disturbing and equally engaging. Jonas Strandt Gavli as Viljar Hannsen is equally powerful as an 18 year old who life has been turned upside down by the attack.

Themes :-

Paul Greengrass has shown terrorism as an existential crisis in geographies in US, Middle East etc. With 22 July, he given a new dimension to the problem of terrorism and has given an expansive view of the problem from a new and refreshing perspective. The rise of the Right Wing is being seen all over the world including India and “22 July” cements the fact.

Final Verdict:-

22 JULY is a gem of Paul Greengrass which creates a new world and its inhabitants from an old subject. A must watch on your Netflix list.

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