Tackling a real life story is always going to be hard. But for the case of the July 22 attack by Anders Breivik in 2011, it is one that is almost impossible to tell. I rarely agree with films like these ever being made, films that dramatize a real-life event that killed many. This was especially the case with this film, possibly glorifying and drawing attention to a man whose goal was to gain as much attention as possible; in that sense we shouldn’t remember him at all albeit an impossible feat. However, with these types of films comes the strong interest in how they could begin to make this film. As mentioned before, ‘July 22’ is centered on the horrific attack orchestrated by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik. The film begins immediately with the planned attack, firstly the bombing of a Government building in Oslo and the second attack, aimed at Utoya Island, the temporary home of a youth summer camp. Following the subsequent arrest of Breivik we follow the rehabilitation of a particular youth critically injured during the terrorist event.
The story is split into three parts. The attack, Anders Breivik’s court case and the rehabilitation of one of the youths, Viljar. ‘July 22’ is a superb example of how real life drama should be interpreted on the big screen. The choice of casting an actor who looks nothing like the real Anders Breivik. If Anders Danielsen Lie was the spitting image of Breivik, then I feel that could have been a huge issue with the film. If they made that choice, then it would allow the opportunity of the followers of Breivik to enjoy it. Instead, by changing his appearance completely, it’s a middle finger to Breivik. The decision to cast an actor to look the complete opposite of the right wing extremist is an obvious one. Because of this, ‘July 22’ doesn’t have a typical lead, but it reaps the rewards of an amazing ensemble performance. Despite this, Jonas Strand Gravli who plays Viljar is the standout in the film. Starring in his first feature film and giving a performance like he does is tremendously impressive and moving.
All the young actors on the summer camp during the shooting are equally as good. As the incident happens early in the film, it’s hard to be gripped sometimes by something so terrible happening within the first few moments. But all of the actors make their characters extremely likeable straight away which made me emotionally attached which is credit to all of them.
Paul Greengrass, the director, is someone else that should be showered with praise. The British born film maker shows again that he is one of the most talented directors out there, and one that I believe to be under appreciated. His ability to tell the story of the attack is undoubtedly a near-impossible task, as previously mentioned, but he manages to make it respectful and hard hitting. Greengrass not only draws you in straight away with the horrendous attack, but he continues to keep you hooked throughout the films two and half hour running time. By interchanging between Breivik and Viljar throughout, it keeps it fresh which is vitally important for a film of this running time.
Additionally, the decision to also have the roles played by a Scandinavian cast is one that should be applauded. I would love to see this being discussed as one of the awards season movies. As the Oscars, Golden Globes and Baftas are fast approaching, this is a film that definitely deserves to be in the running for nominations. As I think it rightly deserves to be recognised for its tremendous effort in retelling what is by far one of the most awful attacks ever. A fantastic cast, led by an extremely talented director create a chilling yet fascinating film that left an impression, one that is difficult to shake.