22 July ★½

Will fans of Paul Greengrass's high-minded snuff-film cosplay (BLOODY SUNDAY, UNITED 93, etc) be pleased or disappointed that the titular massacre of 22 JULY takes less than a quarter of the film's runtime? Perhaps inspired by the ending of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, or perhaps inspired by the goal to transform Anders Breivik's massacre into a tale of good triumphing over evil, Greengrass here swiftly dispatches the massacre (and, by extension, the victims of the massacre) to move towards a courthouse drama.

With this horrible deed striking so many families, it may be a surprise that the focus of the story is so narrow, with only one surviving victim taking centre stage. Whether dictated by life rights contracts or a dramaturgical goal to focus the drama around one person, the end result is to render most of the victims blurry if not invisible, and the plot beats most of the same notes (Breivik's lawyer is troubled by his client, the Prime Minister is confused, it's difficult to heal from a gunshot that leaves fragments near your brainstem) with a monotony that Philip Glass would reject as repetitive. Meanwhile, Breivik remains in clear, bloviating focus. At one point, he argues that his courtroom speech will be his "third attack". Does that make this movie his fourth?

I'm being unduly harsh, because I've been building up a head of steam against this kind of movie for a while now, and it's reached critical mass here. What, precisely, are we supposed to get out of this? A portrait of evil? A warning that the world is full of bad people? The fuzzy feeling that hard work and determination will overcome evil people?

In this case, I think I know. There's a moment where an online acquaintance of Brevik's uses the term "alt-right" as a possible moniker for his beliefs. (Did I mention the whole film's in Norwegian-accented English?) Those of us living in our enduring political hellscape know that didn't enter anything remotely resembling common parlance until 2016. It's a minor fault, but it's a major tell. Greengrass, here and elsewhere, wants to yoke Brevik to said alt-right, as if to warn us that they're capable of violence, which, yes, we saw BLACKKKLANSMAN and we lived through Charlottesville, so, thanks for that?

Is it a "good film" technically? Sure. Greengrass is at the most controlled I've seen him - the fact that this is a good deal less shaky than the WHIPLASH/LA LA LAND director's space movie is a reasonable sign that our simulation has completely crashed and needs a reboot, if you needed another - and the performances are good, cross cutting ticks along, blah blah. And I'm sure he's convinced himself he's honoring the survivors or advancing democracy or some shit. And I'm sure it will be the same when he does LAS VEGAS or PARKLAND or BATACLAN or NICE or whatever we're in for next. But I'm bowing out. Whatever I'm supposed to learn from lovingly-crafted recreations of horrifying massacres, I think I've learned.