Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerová
No this has nothing to do with apes or primates as the standard definition of anthropoid might suggest. As WWII films go, Anthropoid is a dark one, it’s tough to watch for a number of reasons. Academy Award nominated short film director Sean Ellis brings the assassination attempt of Hitler’s third rank to life. Ellis, is also the cinematographer and presents much of the film like a horror movie. It’s a well told story, documenting the courage and bravery of an entire town that worked together in an effort to stand up to Germany. The film spends a good hour setting up the explosive second half that’s as violent and intense as any action film you will see this year.
Jan Kubis (Dornan) and Josef Gabcík (Murphy) are the latest resistance fighters to parachute into Prague, sent by London for a very special mission. Operation Anthropoid is to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, also known as The Butcher of Prague. One of the main architects of the Holocaust, Heydrich has a routine that Kubis, Gabcík study along with local informants for months leading up to their deadline. The locals worry that killing Hitler’s left arm man will only make things worse for Czechoslovakia, which is under German occupation. Despite their fears and devotion to their mission, both men fall in love with local women sympathetic to their cause.
It’s not for the faint of heart however, the violence and darkness in this film is difficult to take.
Ellis uses historical filming location restraints to his benefit. Shot on location in and around where the events took place, Ellis’ cinematographer is always tight on the actors faces, except for doctored wide shots to remove modern accessories. This technique makes Anthropoid feel more authentic. The need to frame tightly only adds to the ominous mood of the picture and the gathering suspense. The first hour of the film is all set up, character introduction, very little happens. I’ll admit I was mentally ready to abandon a film that seems like all set up, but Ellis more than makes up for it in the second half. In fact, he almost uses this as a tool to relax the viewer to near boredom, only to have them on the edge of their seat in the final act. All the films performances are admirable but never detract from the plot, rather just successfully blend.
Many viewers will be unaware of how this story plays out historically and that not only gives Anthropoid importance but adds to its suspense. Many times if a director can get the audience involved in the plot, even if you are screaming at the screen due to characters’ incompetence, you are involved. So much of the drama here is built within conversations, in sealed rooms and behind closed doors. With such a vast amount of high energy WWII films out there, Anthropoid’s only real comparison would be Valkyrie (2008). Although the non-Hollywood efforts here to maintain authenticity make this a better film. It’s not for the faint of heart however, the violence and darkness in this film is difficult to take. There is little to no lite hearted moments in the 120 minute picture.
Authentic in its first half, pulse pounding in the second, a dark, heavy film not easily shaken.