Devastating, but not exactly daring, Anthropoid is extraordinarily true but ordinarily told, except for a couple of phenomenal action sequences.
The real story behind the new World War Two film Anthropoid is remarkable, unbelievable and awe inspiring, but these same attributes are not so relatable to the film itself. There is nothing much wrong with it, but you come away marvelling at the reality as opposed to the fictional retelling.
Jan Kubric (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) parachuted into their native land of Czechoslovakia to carry out Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Hitler’s third in command, Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe). The country had been sacrificed by the allies in a bid to avoid war in 1939, but the rest, as they say, is history. The anger at the betrayal of the allies was only superseded by the Czech people’s hatred for the Nazis themselves, and yet Anthropoid was used as a gambit by the provisional Czech government in London to prove their allegiance to the allies who had handed them over to Hitler. Assuming courtships with Marie (Charlotte le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerova) respectively, the two soldiers begin to plan the assassination with the help of the limited resistance forces still in operation in the city, including Toby Jones’ Uncle and fellow parachutist Adolf Opalka (Harry Lloyd).
This much is all true, and although the major scenes did pack that hefty adrenaline punch that was required, there was something missing from the movie overall. It was good, but it had the potential to be really great. Yet, it may be one of the few films worthy of the disclaimer ‘based on a true story’, saving you from all the disappointment that inevitably follows after researching a film to find out that most of it is complete baloney.
However, the main concern was the low regard they had for the audience. Too many shifty eyed glances were shared and too many obvious mistakes were made by supposed trained soldiers trusted to carry out one of the most audacious missions ever completed during the war. It felt like play school assassination disasters, until they whipped into action for the two pivotal fight scenes when they soon became seasoned war veterans. These silly mistakes were surely for our benefit only, but they weren’t needed. The added suspense of a fleeting glance across a dinner table was not worth the break in the illusion that it caused, making each one less thrilling and more tiresome than the next. Granted, slip-ups would be made in such an intense and dangerous landscape, but not when it came to a mother taking the word of a Nazi that he would leave her son alone, or looking directly at the other man’s coat under which he is setting up a machine gun. It was demeaning to the audience who were there to see a serious story told seriously.
The relationship between Marie and Jan was predictable and taken for granted, but that left the relationship between Murphy’s Josef and Lenka to take a centre stage. Dornan’s and Le Bon’s relationship was based on young love and cliché, but it was never clear whether Josef and Lenka were ever in love. A mutual respect grew into something much more poignant, as the two characters, left romantically practical and emotionally stunted through war, reached an affinity more significant and a connection deeper than love. In fact, their two characters were the most exciting and yet under-appreciated of the film, and provided much stronger performances that left only impartial feelings to be had toward most of the rest of the cast.
Anthropoid did stay true to the story, but it didn’t completely reach its potential. It was terrible and uncomfortable to watch in places, but it needed to be told. The appreciation for such historical events to be documented was still very much apparent at the cinema, with a large part of the audience made up of the older generation making the effort where they usually wouldn’t to witness the real sacrifice of these lost heroes. Anthropoid expertly maneuvered the delicate and cruel forces at work within a war, and the consequences that will result as a part of any action, no matter how brave and selfless.
Anthropoid (2016), directed by Sean Ellis, is distributed in the UK by Icon. Certificate 15.