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In '22 July' Filmmaker Paul Greengrass Tells The Story Of Terrorist Attack In Norway


Filmmaker Paul Greengrass is known for making action films. Sometimes the action is make-believe, as in his three Jason Bourne movies. Other times, it's taken from real life - his Somali pirate drama "Captain Phillips," for instance. The director's new film, "22 July," is a true story about a terrorist attack in Norway that left 77 people dead. Critic Bob Mondello says the attack itself turns out to be just the beginning.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The adrenaline rush starts early. The film cuts between a man in a gas mask making bombs and the happy faces of teenagers arriving at a Leaders of Tomorrow camp on an island near Oslo.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Welcome, everyone. We are going to do an exercise called If I Were Prime Minister.

MONDELLO: The bomb builder drives his van to a government office and lights a long fuse. By the time it goes off...


MONDELLO: ...He's more than halfway to the island.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) We have breaking news. A large explosion has gone off in the center of the city.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) We will suspend activities until we get some more information.

MONDELLO: The camp's counselors take reasonable precautions, but the bomber - cold, canny, methodical - gets past them in a homemade police uniform and starts shooting.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) What was that?

MONDELLO: The kids scatter, and more than 60 of them die.


JONAS STRAND GRAVLI: (As Viljar) It's going to be OK.

MONDELLO: That's Viljar, for whom things will not be OK and who will feature prominently in the rest of the film. But even as the attack is in progress, director Paul Greengrass is shifting your attention to parents, emergency responders, lawyers, the reaction of society, including a prime minister who responds in a way that seven years ago seemed natural to government officials.


OLA FURUSETH: (As Jens Stoltenberg) Our nation has been attacked by someone who would see it changed. He would see our democracy become tyranny, see our humanity fall. Instead we must strengthen our values and fight this terror with the rule of law.

MONDELLO: Greengrass is aware that that measured response is not always the go-to response of governments today, and he's been saying in interviews that the anti-immigrant worldview pushed by right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is spreading, which presents him with a challenge mirroring the one Norway faced - how not to give this murderous zealot a platform.

The director's answer is to focus the rest of "22 July" on how Norwegian society denied Breivik the war he wanted by giving him everything to which he was entitled - a trial, a lawyer and an earful from those he hurt, including Viljar, a promising teen politico now with bullet fragments in his brain and worries that the shooting's effects will make him appear weak in court.


GRAVLI: (As Viljar) That I cry in my sleep, that I can't talk to strangers, that I'm frightened of dying - I'd rather not go than let him hear that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Then what is it you want?

GRAVLI: (As Viljar) I want to make him see what he's done. I just want to beat him.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Well, maybe this is your chance.

MONDELLO: Greengrass made "22 July" in English but with a Norwegian cast and crew because, he says, they know things he can't about what the attack did to Norway's sense of itself. The result is that what starts out harrowing ends up affirming a portrait of a country that unites to make the tragedy of 22 July count for something - the strength of their national character. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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