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“22 July” sees Paul Greengrass effectively depict another tragic historical event

While most audience members know Paul Greengrass best as the director of the two best regarded Jason Bourne movies, that’s not where his true specialty resides. He’s far more at home crafting hard hitting docudramas. Bloody Sunday was his calling card film, while United 93 remains his finest hour. It’s in that vein that his latest work firmly sits. 22 July not only marks Greengrass’ return to this style of movie making, it also represents his first foray into putting something out on Netflix. A long and somber true story like this may not be your first assumption for a Netflix release, but the quality here should draw you in.

If you don’t know what 22 July stands for, it represents the day that Norway suffered the worst terrorist attack in that country’s history. Taking place on July 22nd back in 2011, extreme right wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie) went on a murder spree, ending up killing well over 70 people. Between a car bomb near the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (Ola G. Furuseth), as well as a mass shooting of teens at a Labour Youth Camp on Utøya Island, located right outside of Oslo. The film starts with the lead up to the attack, as well as the terrorist act itself. From there, it focuses on the aftermath, from the survivors, to the politicians, to the lawyers prosecuting the case against Breivik. Greengrass writes and directs, with the rest of the ensemble cast including Isak Bakli Aglen, Maria Bock, Jonas Strand Gravli, Thorbjørn Harr, Jon Øigarden, Seda Witt, and many more. Pål Ulvik Rokseth handles the cinematography, while Sune Martin composed the score. The names may not be recognizable, but that actually allows Greengrass to fully emerge you into this story.

This is ambitious work by Greengrass, even by his docudrama standards. Using the structure he’s using, this tackles a bigger canvas than ever before for him. The matter of factness with which Greengrass depicts the attack is something only he could have pulled off. Clinical for sure, it’s also somehow still rather emotional, albeit in a quiet way. Then, in diving deep into the aftermath, it shows a new side for him. Though not on the level of United 93, this still represents another outright success for a very talented filmmaker. If there’s a complaint to be found, it’s with the length. At almost two and a half hours, it asks a lot of you.

Netflix has higher profile contenders to promote, so the Academy Award push for 22 July is likely to be light. It may well just be centered on Greengrass, so Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, or bust. That, obviously, suggests bust, what with a competitive year, the streaming service being preoccupied with Roma and such, as well as the challenging nature of the movie. The quality is there with this flick, just know that. The snubs coming its way have more to do with competition and politics than anything else. Last time around, Greengrass was heavily feted for Captain Phillips. This time, that seems far less likely.

Anyone who was moved by Bloody Sunday, Captain Phillips, or United 93 will again see Greengrass working along those lines if they check out 22 July. The film isn’t a feel good type of thing that you can just throw on while eating dinner. Greengrass’ latest requires attention and patience. Those virtues are rewarded though, in a big way. Martin Scorsese is the next auteur headed to the streaming service with The Irishman, but right now, we have Greengrass firmly entranced now in the Netflix world. The politics of that aside, going this route allows the widest possible audience to experience the flick. Give it a look and see what you think…

22 July is streaming on Netflix right now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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