September 12, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “22 July” & “American Woman”


22 JULY (Netflix – October 10):  So many terrible things have happened in the world since July 22, 2011 that at least in the US, few even remember the horrific events that occurred in Oslo, Norway that day, when a single right-wing fanatic named Andres Behring Breivik gunned down 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a summer camp (injuring over a hundred more), and also blew up 8 people with a bomb at the Prime Minister’s office.  The great thriller writer-director Paul Greenglass, a chronicler of real-life stories of violence (Captain Phillips, Bloody Sunday, United 93) when he’s not in Bourne mode, has rivetingly restored those events to public consciousness with 22 July.  Greenglass devotes the opening quarter of the film to a recreation of that day’s crimes, and the sequences at the summer camp are agonizing to watch, filmed with a nearly offhanded expertise that captures Breivik’s utter dislocation from the victims he was condemning to death.  The rest of the film is devoted to the next year or so in the lives of several of those caught up in the massacre, including Breivik himself (played by Anders Danielsen Lie) and his reluctant attorney (Jon Oigarden) through the resulting trial; a teen survivor (Jonas Strand Gravli) of awful injuries at Breivik’s hand; and the Prime Minister (Ola G. Furuseth).  As the names indicate, while the actors in 22 July speak English, the cast is entirely unknown to American audiences, and that, along with the disturbing violence and 143-minute running time, will make the film a challenge, one that’s probably only possible right now through the funding of Netflix, which doens’t care about selling theatre tickets and longs for credibility in the movie world.  Greenglass has taken advantage of those resources in the best possible way.  Although the sections involving the Prime Minister and the internal government investigation of the security shortcomings that aided Breivik are thin, the sequences about Breivik himself and his victim are gripping.  22 July is hardly a date night movie, either out on the town or on the couch, but it’s excellent, worthy filmmaking.

AMERICAN WOMAN (no distrib – TBD):  An odd, novelistic idea for a film that doesn’t quite come off.  American Woman, directed by Jake Scott and written by Brad Ingelsby, begins with the disappearance of a 17-year old girl who’s already the mother of an infant, and by the time the film is over, that disappearance is explained.  But American Woman is in no way a thriller.  Rather, it’s the story of the girl’s mother Debra (Sienna Miller), who was similarly a teen when she gave birth, and barely more mature than her daughter.  After the girl vanishes, Debra has to raise her grandson, and we follow her for 15 years through her interactions with her mother (Amy Madigan), older sister (Christina Hendricks), her grandson, and a variety of mostly bad men.  Debra gradually matures and comes into her better self, but in ways that aren’t particularly interesting.  Miller gives a strong performance in a role that offers more scope than her movie work to date has allowed, and the supporting cast (which includes Aaron Paul as one of the men in Debra’s life) is very fine, and they’re the reasons American Woman has some value.  But apart from a general message of aspirational growth through heartbreak and necessity, there’s little substance here.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."