Films about World War II are sometimes hard to watch and even more difficult to review.
On the one hand you don’t want to minimize the all-too-real sacrifices actual members of “the Greatest Generation” made, yet at the same time one can’t help but compare the educational aspects against the action and drama on the screen.
It’s not always a fun time at the movies, but then I don’t think it is supposed to be. I remember when I saw Schindler’s List with some college friends on a trip to Atlanta. After the film was over, having witnessed both the atrocities on display and the expert filmmaking involved, the theater was silent.
Sean Ellis’ Anthropoid falls into the same situation. It dramatizes the story of an attempt to assassinate Hitler’s third man in command after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, a task which the filmmakers should be commended for undertaking. Unfortunately, the interpersonal drama at the center of story doesn’t always work.
The principal players in the covert mission known as “Operation: Anthropoid” are Jan Kubris (50 Shades of Grey’s Jaime Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Batman Begins’ Cillian Murphy), two paratrooper who drop down behind enemy lines and seek shelter from a Czech family as they make plans to murder SS General Reinhard Heydrich.
As part of their subterfuge, the pair pose as the boyfriends of local girls Marie Kovárníková (Charlotte Le Bon from The Walk) and Lenka Fafková (Anna Geislerová). Josef is the much more mission-oriented of the spies, and Ian begins to legitimately fall for his fake paramour to the extent the couple become engaged and hope to start a new life together after all the killing is over.
Without giving away the ending, there are twists, turns and complications in both the plot and the mission as the assassins reach their climatic moment, and the story details much more than just the intrigue, politics, and passion involved. The movie is gripping and almost becomes a thriller as it is executed with minor and major characters meeting their fate at almost every turn.
The action sequences are top-notch, but where the engagement falters slightly is in the chemistry between the spies and their lovers. Dornan and Le Bon’s characters seem to have genuine feelings for one another and you want them to prosper independent of the mission, but Murphy and Geislerová don’t seem to have that same connection. Perhaps that is a reflection of the historical coupling (and if so they should not be criticized for staying true to history), but in terms of connecting with the audience I felt they should have kept to either one extreme or the other instead of trying to meet somewhere in the nebulous middle. To her credit though, Lenka does say the line “War is not romantic,” so perhaps that is all there is to say.
I am no historian, but if you want to watch a film that will provide more insight than entertainment value the two hours spent learning about Anthropoid will be time well spent.
You might not have much to say about it after, but as Jan says to Marie at a pivotal point in the story, “Maybe it was a mistake not to inform you of the danger.”
Directed by Sean Ellis
Runtime; 2 hours
MPAA rating: R for violence and disturbing images
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerová
Celluloid Scoreboard: B+; gripping historical tale of man’s inhumanity to man, even though some of the interpersonal drama falls flat.