Netflix's 22 July Review
Paul 'Bourne' Greengrass' latest thriller is a clinical dissection of a terrorist attack, and a nice little win for Netflix.Based on the 2011 Norway attacks, 22 July is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Greengrass, who is probably best known for his Matt Damon collaborations, having helmed three Bourne entries - The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne - as well as Green Zone.
Although these are generally the films you think of when you hear his name, the filmmaker has also shown a keen eye for detailing shocking real-life events, tackling the September 9/11 attacks in United 93, a Somali pirate hijacking in Captain Phillips, and now investigating the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway in a clinical and comprehensive part-procedural, part-docudrama which cleverly splits the perspective between attacker, victims, the Government, and the legal team who worked on the horrific case.
The story attempts to piece together the events that shocked a nation.
After a twin attack leaves Oslo reeling, lawyers and politicians struggle to pick their way through the chaos, and the victims try to deal with what they have been through. With focus on the parents of the young victims (one mother of whom is the local Mayor), on one of the wounded boys in particular and his painful rehabilitation, on the Prime Minister and the Government's attempts to get a handle on the attack(s) - and indeed the attacker himself - and also on the lawyers with the unfortunate job of dealing with this mess in a supposedly detached, dispassionate way, the story attempts to piece together the events that shocked a nation, and the world.
Concerned more with the aftermath than the shocking events, Greengrass devastates you with his tense opening gambit, with a horrific killing spree at a summer camp setting the stage of a community left in ruins, reeling from what has happened. It's a terrifying event, shot through with Greengrass' trademark filmic, documentary style, and just enough shaky-cam to give it some life without giving audiences eye strain. And it's also almost unbelievably horrific; in a completely fictional movie, such as The Terminator, this kind of setpiece would be overkill, which makes the fact that this was real all the more shocking.
For those unaware of the real events, it's a tough watch, and the ensuing medical treatment of the victims - shown with gruesome attention to detail - juxtaposed with the attacker's 'demands' of the Government, make for suitably difficult viewing in an altogether very different way. Greengrass throws you off-balance through his depiction of the seemingly clinical antagonist, who goes in like a trained assassin but comes out making you wonder whether, even though it's only a legal defence, he's actually completely and utterly insane. It's a question Greengrass poses, and then lets simmer a little bit as the characters ruminate themselves - obviously affected by the impact of what it may mean if he does indeed 'get off' with an insanity plea.
It's a tough watch.
Norway hadn't seen anything this shocking since WWII, and Greengrass clearly shows that the impact of the attack sends ripples through every echelon of the closely-knit society. Politicians call for better preventative measures, the public cry out for justice and the lawyers struggle to offer anything within the law that can cope with such an event. Although clearly a film, at times it feels very documentary in nature, with some subtle but effective techniques put in to lend some flair to the proceedings in organic ways. None of it is contrived, and it's the mark of an efficient filmmaker who knows his subject and doesn't need to dramatise for effect; the subject speaks for itself.
Whether or not audiences would turn out in droves to see this at the cinema is an entirely different story, but it's every bit as deserving of your attention as Peter Berg's Patriot's Day, and much less Wahlberg-y, and a nice little gem for Netflix to have picked up; one which doesn't feel at all Netflix-y either (but for the rampant darkness afforded by their new shroud of Dolby Vision). Blending popular Scandi-noir sensibilities through the cold and isolated setting, with a true Norwegian horror story that doesn't need any dramatisation, and filtering it through Greengrass' journalistic eye, the results are really quite effective.
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