This is a very difficult film to review. Paul Greengrass returns to the documentary drama genre in which he so skillfully directed United 93 following September 11, 2001. Here he tackles the story of Norway’s worst terrorist incident and how the country reacted.
The film starts with a harrowing account of the attacks on Olso and then the Labour Party Youth Camp on Utoya Island. While the attack on the island is a very tough watch, it actually shows less of the violence than you think. However, this is still a difficult sequence to endure.
The film then moves to the story of the survivors (focusing on Viljar Hanssen – brilliantly played by Jonas Strand Gravli) and Norway’s struggle to deal with the trial of Anders Breivik (chillingly portrayed by Anders Danielsen Lie) who is represented by his lawyer Geir Lippestad (Jon Oigarden).
Greengrass made the difficult decision to have his actors speak English, rather than Norwegian so he could understand their performances. Given the nature of this story and the need to get it right, this was a correct decision (aided by the quality of performance). He also had to grapple with the issue of giving Breivik another platform for his views. It is this aspect of the film which may divide audiences the most. Although, it should be noted that the families of the survivors were consulted and did not want the story to be washed down.
On the whole, I think he succeeds. The power of the performance of Jonas Strand Gravli and his battle to face both the injuries caused by Breivik and the looming court appearance outweigh any fears as the film shows the survivors and Norway to be the heroes. Also, the story of the lawyer, who is selected by Breivik, shows the commitment to the process of law in the face of unimaginable pressure and moral challenge, while the Prime Minister (played by Ola G. Furuseth) grappled immense political decisions.
In summary, this is a brilliantly directed piece, as you would expect from Greengrass, but will not work for all viewers. It is an intense, hard watch. Ultimately, the superb acting and the interwoven story arcs, achieve a balance of telling an important story about the dangers we face from extreme views (particularly true at the moment) and the impact it has on ordinary people as well as our political and legal systems.
Rating – 8/10
Should you go to see it? – It is an important film given the current political climate. However, it is intense and would be amplified in a theatre environment. The choice is available to watch at home on Netflix.