Back when I was working for a big Canadian video store chain that is now extinct and will remain nameless, I used to get an advance look at the new releases, much like I get to do now as a film critic. A lot of the time I would see the big releases early but I was also able to check out the smaller films. One of the films I was lucky to come across was a little British film called Cashback, from writer and director Sean Ellis. The film, about a man dealing with some unusual side effects of insomnia, completely captivated me and I recommended it to everyone I could think of that would appreciate it. I then waited for his next feature.
This would be The Broken, a mind twister of a thriller starring Lena Headey, before the world would get behind her in Game of Thrones and was currently underappreciating her in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Throughout the film, one thing was very evident. Ellis had moved from his trippy little drama Cashback with all its feature film lessons within and was applying this knowledge to his new project. The guy is getting better and better and, although his last film Metro Manilla flew by without notice, his new film is the biggest one he has ever made with a production level that astounded me all over again.
Anthropoid is the true story account of a World War II mission called Operation: Anthropoid, an assassination job launched by the British special ops to kill Adolf Hitler’s second in command, Reinhard Heydrich. The movie’s story follows Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), who, at the start of the film, parachute into their homeland of Czechoslovakia occupied by the Nazis at the end of 1941. Jozef is a driven man with his eyes only on the mission at hand and nothing beyond and Jan is a bit more optimistic with dreams of having a future which may come off a bit naive given what the results of their mission could have and the repercussions could destroy their country and every citizen that lives there.
The two are put up at a boarding house in town, living with a family that is only half in the know of who these men are and what their purpose is in Czechoslovakia. With no means of communication back to London and extremely limited supplies, Operation Anthropoid looks more and more like a ramshackle production and something that has a very small success rate. Jan also begins a romance with the matriarch of the families’ daughter, which only complicates his motivation to carry out their mission. The stakes of the whole operation get raised when the war starts to escalate and their window in which they can successfully assassinate Heydrich gets smaller and smaller.
Already touting Sean Ellis as a great director, I saw Anthropoid as a film much more mature than anything he had worked on until this point. The production level of the film is immaculate, the details of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia is spot on and you would be hard pressed to find any falsities in this department. Ellis also acts as the film’s cinematographer, something that seems completely rare these days. He gives the film a rich and historical feeling that immerses you in this fight but gives a closeness to the characters that you are just as attached to their individual stories. When the tension of their situation arises, you definitely feel that too as well as the urgency of the task at hand.
I’m not very well versed with Jamie Dornan as an actor as I mercifully skipped Fifty Shades of Grey last year for Kingsman: The Secret Service and, to be honest, I feel better for it in the long run. This being said and all the horrible reviews of that terrible film aside, Jamie Dornan was pretty compelling in this film. You really felt for Jan, a helpless romantic at heart who slowly got soured by the no-win attitude of war. Cillian Murphy, on the other side, just as slowly softens and begins to see the light of a good life, even if his pragmatic side is always enough to squash him back to reality. The look into the psyche of these two characters serves to put you on side with them in a little bit of a manipulating way but I feel that there can be an allowance for this, especially given the adversaries they face.
What I found most refreshingly different was seeing a story within World War II before the Americans had joined the fight in Europe. Not that I have anything against films like Saving Private Ryan and its ilk, I just enjoyed having a flag waving film and instead seeing a story told about a group of men trying to liberate the country that birthed them and the country they love, fighting against insurmountable odds. It’s obvious, even to them, that this is a mission that could blow the country apart but what if it changes the entire war and gives the allies the advantage? I think that WW2 buffs will find Anthropoid an interesting watch and I give it a four out of five.