HOLLYWOOD—It’s probably the movie industry’s favorite subject, but we’re not seeing it from the usual perspective. “Anthropoid” isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a somber, decent, if ultimately imperfect effort to show a side of World War II we don’t often see.
The plot follows the true story of Operation Anthropoid, a plot by the Czechoslovakian government-in-exile and resistance to assassinate high ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. It begins with key operatives Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy), Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan), and several others being parachuted into the occupied country. Once there they meet the remnants of the resistance, including their brave, dedicated, soon to be love interests Lenka Fafkova (Anna Geislerova) and Marie Kovarnikova (Charlotte Le Bon) and set the plan in motion.
The story at times has the feeling of a docudrama. In the opening sequences this sets a great scene, but in the end the character development suffered. Attempts at humanizing the characters mostly fall flat. The backstories we do get come off more as an attempt to sprinkle on some pathos rather than do a quality job developing the characters and humanizing these historical figures. The women are especially underdeveloped, and I can’t help but think they were included for the completely improper reason of serving solely as character development for the male leads.
If anyone had a standout performance it was Cillian Murphy. He was able to bring some complexity to his character despite the script problems. His almost uniformly cold demeanor in the first half of the film is contrasted with his increasingly visible emotions in the second. With a better script in hand, Murphy may have been able to do even more, but the entire cast was held back by pacing problems and the aforementioned lack of character development.
Speaking of those pacing problems there are defiantly times when the film drags. There are at times overly quiet dialogue added a sound problem that compounded the pacing issues. I would have preferred to get a more in depth exploration of the characters and their histories than many of the dry operational planning scenes. If this extended the film’s runtime I say so be it.
The interactions between the characters suffered as well. The romantic subplots seemed forced and sudden. They weren’t without their moments to be sure, but still their lack of quality did not justify their inclusion.
One thing I did admire about the movie was its quiet, claustrophobic feel. This brought to life the paranoia of conducting resistance operations and the constant fear plaguing a city under occupation. Truly it drove home the danger, tragedy, and evil at play here. There were however scenes that I felt were better left out. The overly sentimental climax involving water and light between Murphy and Geislerova seemed at odds with the tragic, realistic, and dark tone of the rest of the movie.
I must praise the film as a source of thought provoking historical drama. It portrays well the brutality the occupying Nazi’s showed not just Jews (who are briefly depicted, but in my opinion too far in the background), but any opposition movements as well. Scenes of arrest and interrogation have a frightful tension and chilling brutality to them. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the scary scene where Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa questions the French Farmer in “Inglourious Basterds.”
I like the fact that the filmmakers have the vision to point out some of the Allies early, prewar appeasement policies, and how these negatively affected Eastern Europe. Whatever your opinions about how this historical information informs or should inform our current policies and situation, it is good to be reminded of it as food for thought.
As a film and not just history, it wasn’t all bad. It was tense to be sure, and it does pick up quite a bit in the final acts. The shootouts are exciting and well executed, and the cast shows more emotion and chemistry there than in much of the run up to the actual assassination.
Overall it isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not that great. It’s a good intro to a lot of relevant World War II history we often ignore, but as cinema it comes up a bit short of the quality storytelling these events deserve. It’s worth watching if you’re a history or war film buff, but I doubt it’ll ever be on anyone’s list of great World War II films.