Writer-director Paul Greengrass covers 2011 Norway attack in one of the year's best films

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The 2011 Norway attacks that claimed the lives of 77 people are recreated in harrowing, horrific detail in "22 July," writer-director Paul Greengrass' unnerving and intense look at modern terrorism and its consequences.

Greengrass, the modern master of on-the-ground, you-are-there realism (his films include "Bloody Sunday," the "Bourne" movies, "Captain Phillips" and "United 93"), approaches the incident like he's writing a dossier.

We experience the attacks through the shooter, the victims, victims' families and the defense attorney assigned to the shooter's case, as well as Norwegians affected by their aftermath.  

It's so real that it feels like a documentary. Greengrass avoids grandstanding and lays out the facts in cold, hard fashion, and turns in one of the year's most simmering, urgent films. 

The movie opens on the night before the attacks, as Anders Behring Breivik (a chilling Anders Danielsen Lie) loads up his van with the bomb he'll park outside of a government building in Oslo the following day. We see him slipping in and out of the apartment he shares with his mother and her hesitance to engage with him, which speaks volumes about the lone wolf's demeanor, as well as hers. 

The next day Breivik ignites his bomb and makes his way to an island summer camp where he calmly and methodically guns down dozens of teenagers, while they flee for their life, some clinging to a seaside cliff, seeking a hiding place from his bullets. Breivik's expression barely changes as he carries out his act, which he says is in protest of the "Marxists, liberals and members of the elite" who are changing Norway's complexion.

One of those teens, Viljar Hanssen (the excellent Jonas Strand Gravli), survives five bullet wounds, but lies in a coma for days and has to relearn how to walk and function. His slow rehabilitation unfolds as Breivik prepares to go on trial, defended by the deeply conflicted Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden), whose own safety is put at risk as he prepares his defense of the madman. 

Greengrass packs so much into "22 July," from the fear and anger bubbling up in today's political climate (there are plenty of parallels to fringe groups in America) to the due process of law to themes of survivor's guilt and families coping with trauma, that it feels covered from all sides evenly.

It's a frightening, resonant portrait of violence that shouldn't, and doesn't, go down easy. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'22 July'

GRADE: A

Rated R for disturbing violence, graphic images, and language

Running time: 143 minutes

Now on Netflix 

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