A Harrowing Re-Telling Of Norwegian History
Based on a true story, 22 July is a harrowing retelling of the terrorist attack that consumed Norway and left the country shocked to its core. With a muted colour palette and an exhaustive run time, 22 July makes for a difficult watch, one that doesn’t shy away from the hard-hitting, uncomfortable brutality of the mass murders. Unfortunately the film does feel overlong, distracting viewers with its questionable decision to make the actors speak in English rather than their own native Norwegian tongue. It’s an odd choice in truth and something that seriously holds the film back from being as good as it could have been.
The story begins with a literal bang. An explosion in central Oslo rocks the country and whilst emergency services scramble to the scene of the crime, a man dressed in police gear, Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie), heads toward a Labour Party Youth Camp full of children with a serious vendetta and a case full of guns. After a flurry of shocking action, the film grinds to a halt with a much more methodical pace as the various characters pick up the pieces and try to make sense of the incident. It’s at this point where the film plays out with three parallel storylines in the aftermath of action. The twisted psyche of terrorist Breivik is explored with conflicted defence lawyer Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden) torn between his duty and the ethics of his job. The political impact of the terrorist attack is also explored through the Norwegian Government while Torje’s (Isak Bakli Aglen) personal journey fleshes out the trio of stories being told. Inevitably, the final act of the film sees all three of these combine in an emotionally charged finale.
While the film itself does a good job informing us what happened that fateful day, 22 July suffers from its questionable choice of dialect and accents. Given the heavy Norwegian influence, especially with the social and economic themes explored through Breivik’s justifications, it’s odd that the script for the native speaking Norwegians is written and performed entirely in English. Whether this is Netflix’s direct response to people online bemoaning the amount of foreign speaking content on the streaming platform is anyone’s guess but its a test that certainly fails on this account.
The pace change midway through the film is a slightly odd choice too, especially on reflection after watching the film. It’s quite surprising to realise almost half the film is made up of the action that takes place before Breivik’s arrest; it certainly doesn’t feel like that long but compared to the second half, feels like it flashes by in a blink of an eye. While 22 July does have its moments and it certainly presents a very harrowing account of what happened that day, the run time feels overlong with a bloated second half upsetting the balance of the movie.
Still, 22 July is an absorbing, gripping film and one that’s well worth checking out. In many ways it feels loosely similar to Patriot’s Day, a film that tackles a similar theme before exploring the aftermath of said incidents. Unlike the overly dramatic Mark Wahlberg flick, 22 July is much more grounded, exploring its characters and the damaging effect the attack had on the country rather than melodramatic action. The trio of stories that play out do have their moments but at 140 minutes, the film is a long, exhausting watch at times. With distracting accents and a slightly overlong second act, 22 July won’t be for everyone but those who take to the film’s format, there’s a gripping drama at its core worth experiencing.