|'Anthropoid becomes a case study in how to make worthy history exciting as a work of narrative fiction.'|
Contrary to judgements made on the film's title alone, Anthropoid is not some sort of Horror offering but instead an honourable telling of what feels like a little-known war story. Struggling under German occupation, the leaders of the Czech resistance are given what appears to be almost a final mission by their government, currently residing in exile in London.
As Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) parachute into the country, the resistance is tasked with helping them to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the third in command of the Nazi party and architect of the final solution.
What develops is a worthy story, certainly vastly deserving of a big screen adaptation, but also something else. Anthropoid becomes a case study in how to make worthy history exciting as a work of narrative fiction. Given that the assassination attempt happens at about the halfway point, the film gives itself a bit of work to do. There's no extended time for planning here, as in other similar offerings or genre cousins (heist movies, say). Instead Jan and Josef land, have a bit of trouble with the resistance, execute a very simple plan with varying degrees of success and attempt to kindle relationships with Lenka Fafková (Anna Geislerová) and Marie Kovárníková (Charlotte Le Bon).
It's less the film's fault and more the fault of Hollywood at large that this latter element feels false and hurried. Lenka and Marie, two real-world characters who assisted the resistance, should be as notable, and as notably developed, as their other halves, but instead they are largely fodder to develop the male characters. The courtship is prime Hollywood love-in; all furtive glances and misplaced aggression, leading eventually to semi-realised romance. It rings false, because it is and much more time is dedicated to the other collected supporting cast than is given to Lenka and Marie.
The narrative also gets bogged down in the second half, as the film becomes more about the Nazi retaliation for the attack than the attack itself. There is a way to do the gruelling tragedy of war; to do it successfully and honourably and to leave an audience with a sense of gravity. Anthropoid lets its subject down somewhat by turning this gravity into a trudge. The culmination of the horrors is well staged and the film is a respectful depiction of the action it covers, but it does lack the panache of films which deal with this sort of thing in a much more satisfying manner.
Anthropoid is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 16th January.