ANTHROPOID Review

It is mind boggling how many stories continue to be mined from the time period in which World War II took place whether they directly have to deal with certain events of battle or just repercussions of the German invasion that so many countries suffered from. While it is even more impossible to imagine the amount of stories that have yet to be told around interesting, fascinating, and downright terrible acts that came out of this period in history what makes this new film from writer/director Sean Ellis even more telling than its compelling story is the fact it delivers such a small and contained piece of that larger puzzle while at the same time still conveying how grandly devastating so many of the actions that occurred during WWII were. Anthropoid operates in this realm well, slowly initiating the viewer into its world and set of circumstances before we realize the full extent of what our two protagonists have really volunteered for. The movie takes a risk in not attempting to largely develop or humanize these characters until the second act of the film, but rather Ellis and co-screenwriter Anthony Frewin (who was an assistant to Stanley Kubrick on a number of films) use this first act to delve into the history of the situation and present it to the audience in a way that at first feels labored in that it's all work, no play. As we come to feel something for these people and as we come to know a more expanded cast of characters the sympathy builds as does the understanding for the purpose of the colder, but vital scenes that bring us into this mission. The history lesson is important, but more it is understanding the type of thinking that crafted these situations and as a result, our history as we know it, that is key to understanding the character choices and actions that come to take place in the third act of the film. We all know war is hell-even if we've never actively participated the history books and movies have told and showed us this countless times before-it is that Anthropoid is able to give a sense of the scope of that saying in its single, largely unknown account of these actions that makes it not only a story worth telling, but one that is executed in an entertaining and incisive enough fashion that it deserves to be seen as well.

Joseph Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are sent to Prague to execute Operation Anthropoid.
Operation Anthropoid was the code name for the mission during World War II in which Czech and Slovak soldiers Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) were sent into Prague with the intent of assassinating SS General Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe). Heydrich was the Reich's third in command after Hitler and Himmler, and was the main architect behind the Final Solution and the leader of occupying Nazi forces in Czechoslovakia. Gabcik and Kubis are parachuted into Czechoslovakia eventually making their way to the leaders of the Czech resistance that include Ladislav Vanek (Marcin Dorocinski) and Uncle Hajský (Toby Jones) who are unaware of Anthropoid and Gabcik and Kubis' mission to kill Heydrich. Czech's by birth both Vanek and Hajský are hesitant to take an action with what little resistance they have left as well as an action that would, whether they were to succeed or fail, would undoubtedly bring down a wave of terror on their home country that could potentially wipe Czechoslovakia off the map. As this divide and these reasoning's become more discussed and understood by different parties the line between right and wrong, certainty and risk become all the more blurred allowing the film to build on its inherent tension until the inevitable occurs. Through the carrying out of their mission Gabcik and Kubis are hidden away at the house of Mrs. Moravec (Alena Mihulová) with her husband (Pavel Reznícek), son (Bill Milner) and the young and attractive Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) who occasionally assists Mrs. Moravec with the cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping around the house. Like many Czech's Marie hates the Germans and, upon finding out the reasons Gabcik and Kubis have come to stay with Mrs. Moravec she more or less volunteers her help while clearly being attracted to Dornan's Kubis. Marie enlists the help of her friend Lenka (Anna Geislerová) to pose as Gabcik's girlfriend and they, along with what's left of Czech's resistance (including Mish Boyko and Sam Keeley), begin to formulate a plot to successfully carry out their mission trusting that the repercussions of such actions will be less extensive than what Heydrich already has planned.

Ellis, who not only serves as the writer and director of the film, but was also the director of photography has crafted a war picture that feels small when compared to the likes of other films in the genre, but is still able to maintain an acuteness for the subject matter that elucidates just how far and deep the many battles against the Germans ran. The film generally feels like a smaller budget film in both its scale and story, but Ellis is still able to compose some beautiful, postcard-like imagery that he has lathered in a brown-hue giving the movie a time-tainted look as well as a distinct aesthetic that ultimately compliments the general murkiness of the story and the operation being carried out even if at some points it feels like all the budget could afford. There is a graininess to the picture-the film was shot on 16 mm which is a smaller aspect ratio-and somehow, even if this was all the production could afford it adds a literal grittiness to not only the visual aspect of the film, but to the events that are taking place on that film. This only heightens the tone of the movie as the first hour works toward establishing and then planning the titular mission up until the point the mission is carried out at the one hour mark. Not only marked by the character development that has since occurred that has highlighted rifts in our two protagonists ideologies, but when it comes time for this execution of the operation these characterizations only lent themselves to the situation in a way that made my heart beat faster than it would have were the basic facts of the situation presented. As stated previously, the first half hour or so of the film is structured in a way that we are delivered as much necessary information as possible and on the surface it would seem that that's all we're getting-exposition of sorts so that we're not lost in the chaos of war ourselves, but what we don't realize is that Ellis and Frewin have sprinkled in visual details and lines of dialogue that eventually pay off in unexpected ways creating not only a nice symmetry in the screenplay, but allow a greater emotional heft to register with viewers when things come to a head. My concern was that in executing the titular mission so early in the film that the following forty or so minutes still left to go would make the film suffer in terms of pacing, but while things certainly don't slow down Anthropoid never again reaches the heights of pure tension and anxiety it encapsulates in that key sequence.

The target of their mission is SS General Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe) AKA Hitler's third in command.
There is no doubt most of the film owes its veracity to Ellis and his writing, directing, and shooting skills that allowed for the forty day shoot to bring together a product as entertaining and effective as Anthropoid ultimately is, but the visceral hand the films deals its audience is given extra weight by the rather outstanding performances from not only Dornan and Murphy, but the strong supporting cast-specifically Le Bon, Geislerová, and Mihulová. It is these three women and their introductions into the lives of our two main protagonists that humanize and humble them to the point of recognition. Otherwise, these guys are essentially robots carrying out their orders with little to distract them, much less anything to assimilate them into this Prague culture where they must learn and understand this specific landscape in order to successfully infiltrate it. With Dornan and Le Bon forming this idealistic yet somewhat naive couple who haven't seen the depths humanity can go to they therefore illustrate the more romantic attitude towards war whereas Murphy and Geislerová's characters have seen and experienced things in their lives that no longer allow such innocence. This dynamic gives audiences two ways to view the events that inevitably come-the film itself not adapting one feeling or the other in order to reflect tone, but rather Anthropoid takes its cues from the facts of the situation and plays them with such tautness and strain it more or less forces audiences to choose to either be optimistic about how things might turn out or be realistic in realizing not every story has a happy ending. Regardless of how Ellis actually ends the film his and Frewin's screenplay allows for these two leading mentalities to be fleshed out in such a way that, when paired with Dornan and Murphy's performances, gives the actions taken by each of the characters that much more substance. Every moment and every small detail the script includes has a larger purpose within the story that resonates and Dornan and Murphy milk these moments for all they're worth. Though the film never recovers from the peak of its power at the one hour mark (things get intensely brutal, but it never feels as if the rest of the film catches up making it feel more like the second half of the film is going through the motions rather than maintaining the momentum) Anthropoid will go down as the little story that could-a movie about a small aspect of a big war just as the movie is a small release in a massive summer schedule with the difference in both being the execution of both did/could garner more attention than ever anticipated or desired.