Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Norway/Iceland/USA, 2018. Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by Paul Greengrass, based on the book One of Us by Åsne Seierstad. Cinematography by Pål Ulvik Rokseth. Produced by Eli Bush, Gregory Goodman, Paul Greengrass, Scott Rudin. Music by Sune Martin. Production Design by Liv Ask. Costume Design by Margrét Einarsdóttir. Film Editing by William Goldenberg. Toronto International Film Festival 2018.
On the titular date in 2011, a gunman sets off a bomb in front of Oslo’s government building, killing eight people, then makes his way to the island of Utoya and opens fire on unsuspecting teenagers enjoying their summer with the Workers Youth League camp, killing sixty-nine of them. Authorities eventually manage to make it to the island to arrest Anders Behring Breivik and take him into custody, where he tells them that he is a member of a magnificent terrorist organization looking to take Europe back from the liberals and socialists who have ruined the continent with their open borders (to Muslim immigrants, is his main sticking point) and taken power away from those who deserve it (mainly frustrated white people like himself). Paul Greengrass applies his by now familiar documentary-like style to this evil act and goes over the whole experience with a great deal of care, carefully avoiding the temptation to turn Breivik into a fascinating monster and instead presenting a foolish and lonely criminal whose opinions are the ravings of a lesser and not particularly interesting mind. Following a recreation of the horror of the massacre, the film then goes over Breivik’s trial as well as the physical recovery of one of his victims, Viljar Hanssen, son of the mayor of the city of Longyearbyen, who miraculously survives despite sustaining five shots to his limbs and face. As the country grapples with the realities of right-wing fundamentalism being brought to its shores, the struggle in the courtroom then becomes to bring justice to the accused and some measure of satisfaction to the families of his victims without allowing for the sensationalism that could take over the trial (which, Greengrass slyly insinuates, the Norwegians handled so much better than Americans usually do). No disrespect is done to any of those affected by this horrible event, but the bloom seems to be off the rose of Greengrass’ usually grittier and more affecting style, there are as many moments in the film that feel like they’re happening in the moment as there are times when you are fully aware, despite the terrific performances, that you are watching a dramatic re-enactment. Anders Danielsen Lie gives a bold portrayal of the villain, a character completely blind to his own banality and unaware of how far off line he is with the right-wingers that he thinks he is bringing glory to, his behaviour made that much more terrifying by Greengrass refusing to film him like he’s a monster in a horror movie (his Nazi salute is creepy precisely because of how natural an environment it happens in), but he isn’t balanced by particularly deep or sympathetic portrayals of the good guys, who are sketched very simply by very good actors. It’s a dark and lengthy film that goes by surprisingly fast, but has nowhere near the impact of United 93 or Bloody Sunday.