22 July

* * * 1/2 (Netflix)

Paul Greengrass’s ambitious portrait of Norway’s response to the attacks of Anders Breivik on 22 July, 2011 is not, possibly contrary to expectations, a provocative, kinetic terror simulacrum à la United 93 or Bloody Sunday. It does dramatize the horrific events, but only for the first 12 minutes or so of the film, and never in a way that feels sensationalistic, lurid or exploitative. The rest of the substantial – two and a half hour – running time is split between a very sober depiction of the struggles the court and political system went through trying to deal with Anders, and the story of one survivor’s rehabilitation.

The first element is brilliantly done, possibly Greengrass’s most subtle work, and holds up a model of how a civilized society can remain civilized even when an aberration of such magnitude occurs. The maturity shown by every level of Norwegian society – even by one of Anders’ alt-right heroes – seems to us, in the age of rage, simply staggering. While Trump calls for the death penalty for suspects via Twitter and the use of torture for suspected terrorists, here we can see a female police officer pausing her interrogation of a confessed mass-murderer to allow the application of a band-aid to his pinky for the tiny abrasion he claims he got “on the skull of a girl I shot.” It is the portrait of a nation in crisis but remaining calm, the opposite of mass hysteria.

The parallel story, of one of the teenage victims and their painstaking physical and psychological recovery, is, unfortunately, boring, however well staged and acted. It operates as a very obvious metaphor for Norway itself, and drags the whole show. Greengrass would be well advised to offer a 100 minute or so tight re-edit with far, far less of this easily disposable footage, and, given the Netflix platform, I see no reason he couldn’t. The result could stand alongside his best work, including the aforementioned films and Captain Phillips. Unfortunately, as it stands, 22 July is inspiring and informative but simply too padded out.

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