“Roma” and “22 July”: A Review of Two Netflix Films From 2018

Bobby Tuzzio ’20


Netflix made a big splash in 2018. The company has continued to prove that it can release amazing content. Two Netflix movies that I saw in 2018 were directed by fairly well-known directors, Alfonso Cuaron’s passion project “Roma,” and Paul Greengrass’s historical drama “22 July.”

I was disappointed with “Roma.” Alfonso Cuaron is one of my favorite modern directors, if not my favorite. His 2013 film “Gravity” is hit or miss with some people. However, when I first saw it in theaters back in 2013, I was absolutely mesmerized by its story, performances, and especially its special effects, and I continue to love it to this day. It wasn’t until after I saw “Gravity” that I watched some of his other movies. His 2005 dystopian science fiction film “Children of Men” is arguably one of my favorite movies released in this century. And his 2001 film “Y Tu Mama Tambien” is an engaging coming-of-age story. I was expecting something of that caliber while watching “Roma.” And since Cuaron directed, wrote, produced, edited, and served as the cinematographer for this film, my expectations were high. Instead, I was bored by it and had trouble getting through it. I was, however, appreciative of what I was looking at. Every shot looks like it could be framed in a museum. As always, he does an unbelievable job manning the camera and he proves yet again why he’s the absolute best living director to handle a camera, other than Steven Spielberg. Cuaron is without a doubt the king of the long take. However, even stellar technique couldn’t save an unappealing and uninteresting story. The characters were dry and, frankly, Cuaron did the best he could to pass this movie off as a work of art.

I also thought it was a mistake by Cuaron to shoot the film in black and white. And no, it’s not because I don’t like black and white movies. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, the movie takes place during the 1970s and is supposed to be based on Cuaron’s childhood. Is he expecting us to believe that his childhood was in black and white? The movie might have fared much better if we saw the vibrant colors of 1970s Mexico City. We definitely got that vibe from the sounds of the streets of Mexico City.

As for the story, there’s not much to say. The dialogue isn’t transformative; it’s unimaginative, and it lacks profoundness. I never would have thought that Cuaron, one of the best cinematic storytellers alive today, could craft such an uninteresting story.

While I didn’t like “Roma,” I am still picking it to win Best Picture (it would be the first foreign language film to take this prize). Cuaron should even win for Best Director (it would be his second win, following his win for “Gravity”). In most years, “Roma” would definitely have a hard time winning Best Picture. But this year, with such slim competition, I would rather see “Roma” win as opposed to movies like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Roma” is not an awful movie; it just didn’t grab me in the same way that it seems to have grabbed the multitude of society.

Over winter break, I checked out another 2018 Netflix movie, this one directed by Paul Greengrass called “22 July,” which is about the 2011 Norway terror attacks. How this movie received such little attention baffles me. Paul Greengrass is probably not at the same caliber of Alfonso Cuaron, but his past films have been both critically and commercially successful. This is also not his first historical film–his 2006 film “United 93” and his 2013 film “Captain Phillips” are both outstanding historical dramas. I thought, however, that “22 July” was the best movie I had seen by him and it was the best movie I saw in 2018. For those who don’t know or remember, the film’s title is a reference to the July 22, 2011 Norway terror attacks, in which a far-right terrorist used a car bomb to blow up a portion of Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Norway, and then proceeded two hours later to open fire at a summer camp on the island of Utoya in Tyrifjorden, Buskerud. The camp was organized by the AUF, the youth division of the ruling Norwegian Labour Party. The explosion killed eight people and injured 209. The subsequent shooting at the summer camp killed 77, including 33 children under the age of 18.

This movie does not hold back. The first 45 minutes or so of it, which displays the carnage that terrorist Anders Behring Breivik (played by Anders Danielsen Lie) commits, is disturbing to watch. Greengrass shoots these sequences in such a way that it makes the audience paranoid, as if we are on that island where the attacks take place. Once the attacks are over after the first third of the movie, we would expect the movie to go downhill from there. Instead, it keeps its composure and turns into a combination of a triumph of the spirit movie and a legal courtroom drama. The triumph of the spirit element of the film lies in the balance of Viljar Hanssen (played masterfully by teen actor Jonas Strand Gravli), one of the teenage survivors who suffers life-threatening injuries at the hands of Breivik. Hanssen is haunted by the attacks and I think Greengrass does a great job of showing his paranoia and trauma through his recovery.

I was particularly impressed with Jon Oigarden, who plays Geir Lippestad, the lawyer who Breivik personally selected based on Lippestad’s past defense of a Neo-Nazi. We see how Lippestad’s personal life and moral views are affected by defending Breivik. I think it’s one of the best elements of the film.

In conclusion, I definitely had different reactions to when I saw “Roma” and to when I saw “22 July.” One I very much liked and one I didn’t like so much. I didn’t expect “22 July” to be nominated for any Oscars, as it received very little attention. However, I think it’s the best movie of 2018. As for “Roma,” while I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be upset if it won Best Picture at the Oscars this weekend.

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