ANTHROPOID (Czech Republic | UK | France/15A/120mins)
Directed by Sean Ellis. Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte LeBon, Toby Jones, Bill Milner.
THE PLOT: In the midst of World War II, Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia with a mission – codenamed Anthropid – to kill Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Prague”, both the exiled government of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Resistsance believe Heydrich’s assassination would be a coup for the Allied side, but there is no plan to get Jan and Josef to safety after their mission is complete.
THE VERDICT: ‘Anthropoid’ is the first of two films about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich – the second being ‘HHhH’, due for release in the near future, and while this is a story of bravery and tenacity, there is also a certain inevitability to films about WWII, since we already know that no act of resistance was not strong enough to stop the war.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan lead the cast here and, some dodgy accents aside, both do well with the roles that they are given. They are both tenacious and driven in their belief in their mission, yet both mange to have a softer side, as is demonstrated through their relationships with Marie (Charlotte LeBon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová). That said, neither character is rounded out to be anything more than we see on screen, and we are never treated to any kind of back story or hint as to how these men got involved with Mission Anthropoid. As well as LeBon and Geislerová, the rest of the cast includes Toby Jones – who brings some gravitas to proceedings – Bill Milner, Brian Caspe and Hana Frejková.
Screenwriters Sean Ellis and Anthony Frewin attempt to get Anthropoid moving right from the off, but take little time to all the audience to get to know the two characters that we are meant to be rooting for. The first half of this wartime thriller is spent watching the characters have various secret meetings around Prague, and it is not until after the supposed climax of the movie that it truly gets thrilling. Some of the comings and goings of planning the assassination are drawn out, but the violent and bloody end to the movie really kicks up the pace and the stakes, it just comes that little bit too late.
As director Sean Ellis allows the movie to meander for the first half, but never really allows the audience to get to know the lead characters other than through their actions in the film. The tension is ramped up during this early part of the film, which allows the siege to fit into the story as a whole, but it does drag its heels to begin with. Ellis has coaxed strong performances from his cast, although some of them are underused, but the film itself is solid, although it could have done with a faster or more engaging first half.
In all, ‘Anthropoid’ is a solid thriller that only really gets thrilling toward the end. Dornan and Murphy do well with what they are given, and allow the audience to root for them even though we learn little about them and the final crescendo of the film is engaging and utterly tense.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Sean Ellis’ follow-up to his stunning Metro Manila goes back in time for a lesser-known true story about World War II. Anthropoid’s story is as deserving to be told as Valkyrie and the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

    Prague, 1942. The city is occupied by the Germans, who rule with an iron grip under the control of the infamous Reinhard Heydrich, ‘the butcher of Prague’. Hitler’s third-in-command and main architect of the Final Solution, Heydrich has already killed thousands of Czechs. It’s at this point that resistance fighters Jan (Jamie Dornan) and Josef (Cillian Murphy) parachute in from London, with orders from the exiled Czech Government to assassinate Heydrich. The city lives in fear and suspicion though, with even the local Resistance afraid of bloody reprisals. Resistance leader Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones) agrees with their cause and shelters them. They need a cover though to avoid being picked up, so Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerova) agree to act as their companions. With news of Heydrich’s imminent departure from Prague for a new assignment, the clock is ticking for Jan and Josef to take out their mark and end his reign of terror…

    The title is a reference to both the operation and resembling a human being in form. At one point, Josef says that they’re not planning to murder Heydrich, but assassinate him, as he hasn’t got a life that is worth living. That puts the audience at a distance from the man himself, which is good in some respects but not so good in others. It raises up Heydrich’s reputation as this monster that must be taken out, but it also leaves him as just a mark, rather than a man. The story is one-sided in that respect. Whereas we all all know about Hitler, we know less about Heydrich. A more balanced story, at least giving Heydrich some scenes of his own, would have been welcome.

    That said though, Ellis and his co-writer Anthony Frewin have fashioned a tense atmosphere of wartime paranoia. Shot on location in Prague, most of the film is spent building up the characters within the Resistance and their interpersonal relationships, which pays off later on in the film when things go off the rails. While the assassination attempt is a bit of an anti-climax, the film’s real strength comes later on in the church stand-off between the Resistance and the German army. Following on from a similar scene in The Purge: Election Year just two weeks ago, shoot-outs in churches seem to be a growing trend. Hopefully it won’t catch on. These scenes are thrilling, urgent and fraught with an impending sense of doom.

    Yet, there’s an undeniable sense that these are just ordinary men and women trying to take back their country from the tyranny of the Nazis. It’s definitely a story worth telling, though it isn’t exactly an untold story. As is the norm with these things, there’s a second film about Operation Anthropoid due next year, called HHhH (Err… OK). Anthropoid has some notable flaws, but it’s well-acted, gripping and fully justifies its existence thanks to the story’s place in history. ***

  • emerb

    When I first heard the title, “Anthropoid”, I had assumed this film was another futuristic sci-fi film with fighting robots and machines but it certainly is not. This is a historical war thriller and the title refers to a real World War 11 secret mission whereby a team, led by two men, was parachuted into Prague to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the third highest ranking member of the Nazi party and head of the German occupation forces in Czechoslovakia in 1942. Heydrich was arguably the worst of Hitler’s henchman – his third-in-command whose lasting legacy is being the architect of the Fuhrer’s “Final Solution.” He was often called “The Butcher Of Prague” and “Anthropoid” is director, Sean Ellis’s meticulously crafted retelling of this tale.

    In December 1941, two Czech expats, paratroopers Jozef Gabèík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) are dropped just outside Prague, Czechoslovakia. Soldiers trained in Britain, they have returned to their occupied homeland to carry out Operation Anthropoid and assassinate the de facto Nazi dictator of the region. They must evade capture by Germans or Czech collaborators and make contact with what is left of the Czech resistance. They have no structured plan and no idea how they will escape but they meet with some of the resistance (Toby Jones, Marcin Dorocinski) who aid their endeavor all the while fearing the consequences if their goal is met. They move in with a family who is only partially aware of the situation and they even take on girlfriends (Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerova), women who have only the vaguest idea of just what will be asked of them. Then they must nervously wait for the opportunity to strike and complete their mission. I quite liked the romantic subplot which I felt humanized the characters and helped convey their intense fear. When the assassination attempt unfolds, the film shifts up a gear while the
    Nazis scour the country countryside brutally killing innocents in an attempt to coerce the men into surrendering. The action packed, tense and cinematic finale takes place in a church where Resistance members have hidden and it’s hard to believe that the events on screen were actually an incredible portrayal of the real event.

    “Anthropoid” is a riveting story and magnificently told. Most films set during World War 11 focus on better known events and occurrences and I had not heard of this side-story regarding Heydrich’s assassination and the brave men undertaking the suicidal, possibly futile mission which they knew would have dire consequences. However, I found it fascinating and gripping but not for the faint hearted. Make no mistake, this is a grim and gritty war movie which never shies away from depicting the devastating human costs and disastrous consequences of the brave act. With tensions high leading up to the attack, the real action
    happens in the fallout. Some of these scenes are quite difficult to watch and the brutality of one particular torture scene is horrific. Admittedly, the film takes a while to get going as the director has to set up the story, introduce us to the character and explain their plan. Things really get going in the nail-biting battle scenes in the second half with widespread mayhem, confusion and panic. It’s also worth noting that the film truly captures the terror and paranoia of life under German rule. The two leads, Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, are superb as the brave men undertaking a daring and decisive act of selfless heroism which will have disastrous repercussions but is to be done for the “greater good”. The audience for this film may be somewhat limited but for those who appreciate a well-made, fact based, thrilling war film, “Anthropoid” is worth checking out.