Anthropoid (Movie) Review
Genre: Action, Drama, Historical, War
Not so much?
This is far from a light hearted, no-brainer action romp. It’s deep, dark, disturbing, intense and thought-provoking, and it’s superb!
In May 1942, an assassination attempt was carried out against Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Nazi forces in German-occupied Czechoslovakia and a key architect behind the ‘Final Solution’ against the Jews. The British and the exiled Czech Government had concocted the assassination plan together, choosing Heydrich as a target due to his position within the Nazi hierarchy, his role within Prague and for his abhorrently brutal actions against civilians. Around 6 months before the assassination attempt was made, two soldiers; Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis; parachuted into Czechoslovakia to begin Operation Anthropoid.
This is where Anthropoid begins, as the ever-excellent Cillian Murphy (Jozef) and the impressive Jamie Dornan (Jan) have just touched ground, removed their parachutes and set about finding their bearings. We follow Jozef and Jan as they make their way to Prague, searching cautiously for their contacts within the Czech Resistance, before stationing themselves into position in order to plan the assassination.
Director Sean Ellis delivers a hugely accomplished effort here, in what is essentially a film of two halves. With the assassination attempt sensibly positioned in the middle of the film, the first half is a slow, steady build-up laden with intricate dialogue as we get to know Jozef and Jan and the supporting players within the Resistance. We learn much of their personalities, and significantly, their motivations. Jozef and Jan in particular are not action heroes ready to fearlessly take on the Nazi army; these are two scared, on-edge and paranoid men clinging onto a belief that what they’re about to do is necessary and right.
The second half picks up the pace dramatically, as Jozef, Jan and the Resistance deal with the aftermath and the reprisals of their assassination attempt, which ultimately lead to an epic, enthralling, violent and harrowing climax.
It’s perfectly pitched by Ellis, who controls the pace with great assurance and uses it to mirror the environment and state-of-mind of the protagonists. Indeed, within moments of the start of the film, we see Jozef and Jan fighting for their lives; panic, anxiety, bewilderment and fear etched on their faces. The pace then slows as they set about establishing their position within the Resistance; determination, authority and motivation all conveyed but always with that undertone of paranoia and fear. The pace of the film could almost represent the heartbeats of Jozef and Jan. However, should anyone feel even remotely bored by the slower elements of Anthropoid, they would be wise to stick with it and reap the reward of being thrown into some unbelievable action once Ellis ramps the pace up.
By developing such a steady and precise build up, and drawing out the anxiety and fear of his leads so well, Ellis expertly allows for tension to softy bubble under the surface, and times it perfectly to create an explosive boiling point at the necessary moment. Every bullet and explosion is felt and heard by you as the audience (making this a worthwhile trip to the cinema!), flying shrapnel and shards of stone and glass sound as if they’re inches away from hitting you, and the relentless gunfire and sense of panic really draws you into the scene to the point that you begin to experience the chaos and anxiety yourself… and that was just the assassination attempt. The finale recreates this ten-fold and further plaudits must therefore be given to Ellis for his ability to depict such intense action and play out such well crafted set-pieces against a backdrop of intricate drama and character development.
Naturally, though, praise must be given to the leads and supporting cast for many of the aforementioned points. Murphy and Dornan are absolutely superb in their respective roles, convincingly portraying every emotion one can only imagine someone feeling in such terrifying and uncertain circumstances. They probably had an equal amount of screen time, with most of their scenes together, yet both were able to convey their character’s personalities and traits overtly and convincingly, allowing the audience to fully distinguish those motivations and fears between them.
The likes of Toby Jones, Harry Lloyd and Charlotte Le Bon also all did their part, Le Bon especially standing out as a victim of circumstance as a result of the operation.
Of course, this story is merely one subplot of the atrocities of WW2, and interspersed throughout Anthropoid are reminders of these. Needless to say, Heydrich himself is symbolic of the evil of the Nazi regime, yet the question remains given the severity of the repercussions that followed the assassination attempt, whether he was ever even a sensible target. This is therefore astute storytelling and far from a generic WW2 movie in which the good guys beat the bad guys. It asks questions, and highlights perhaps some of the more unfamiliar victims of the Nazi oppression.
As such, this is far from a light hearted, no-brainer action romp. It’s deep, dark, disturbing, intense and thought-provoking, and it’s superb!