January 28, 2019 – The terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011 in Norway is detailed in this taught, emotional retelling of the event and its aftermath, directed by Paul Greengrass. It seems only fitting that a movie about this event, the Norwegian equivalent to the American 9/11 attacks, would be directed by Greengrass, who also directed the best movie about the 9/11 attacks, “United 93” in 2006.
Unlike the American attacks, the lone Norwegian terrorist was arrested, and lives to tell his tale, but this movie is also about the people affected by the attacks, the dead and the survivors. In a chilling portrayal, white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik is played by Anders Danielsen Lie of “Rodin.” Breivik is shown methodically preparing his bombs and guns used in the attacks.
Breivik sets his plan into motion, parking a van filled with explosives outside the Oslo offices of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (played by Ola G. Furuseth of “In Order of Disappearance”). He lights the fuse, then immediately drives away to attack a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp. Wearing a police uniform, he commandeers a ferry to the camp, located on the island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden, Buskerud. Upon arriving at the camp, he immediately opens fire on everyone he sees using a hand gun and an assault rifle with high capacity bullet clips.
Breivik is able to persuade some victims that he is a policeman, and he kills a number of them in one of the buildings. The rest run away into the woods, where Breivik hunts them down as if they were animals to be killed for sport. He later reveals that he kills the youths because that is what will cause the nation the most pain. In all, he kills 70 and wounds 200 in the attacks. It is estimated one in four Norwegians knew at least one of those victims.
One survivor in particular becomes the film's main character, Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). Viljar is shown giving a speech about the need for diversity and tolerance on Utøya just prior to the attacks. He is gravely wounded in the attack and nearly dies. Facing years of rehabilitation and possible sudden death at any time from bullet fragments still lodged in his brain, he becomes morose and distant from friends and family, while his parents, Christin and Sveinn (Maria Bock and Thorbjørn Harr, respectively) try their best to help him.
The televised trial of Breivik gives Viljar new purpose. He decides to accept the invitation to testify at the trial and throws himself fully into rehabilitation. He is determined not to look weak at the trial. He doesn't want Breivik to have any satisfaction from his pain and suffering. His testimony is powerful and life affirming. It is the emotional high point of the film.
Another main character in the film is Breivik's lawyer, Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden) who takes the job at Breivik's request out of a sense of duty. At first he argues for an insanity defense, approved by Breivik, and supported by a psychiatric evaluation, but Breivik changes his mind and decides to plead guilty. This results in a strange legal situation where the defense is arguing that Breivik is sane and knew what he was doing, while the prosecution is bound by the schizophrenia diagnosis of the court-appointed psychiatrist.
Lippestad is shown interviewing Breivik's mother, a white supremacist and others, to prepare the case and to find defense witnesses for the trial. It turns out that nobody, not even Breivik's own mother, wants to testify in support of Breivik's actions on 22 July.
This movie perhaps reflects the low-key, deliberate Norwegian temperament, reinforced by the cold, snowy, windswept landscapes and cold, muted interiors that dominate much of this film. It is straightforward, matter-of-fact and unambiguous. The contrast between the weak, lone, angry killer, and the steady, strong, supportive unity of those oppose him is clear. Breivik is alone in the world, confined to a room. His lawyer tells him that Lippestad's children and his children's children will defeat him and everything he stands for. This film rates a B.
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