Anthropoid movie review: human-shaped but lacking in human substance

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Anthropoid yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Familiar-feeling tale of a real-life plot to kill a high-ranking Nazi in 1942 Prague manages some suspense thrills but mostly misses the emotional ones.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Anthropoid sounds like it should be a sci-fi creature feature, but in fact it’s yet another let’s-kill-Nazis action drama. This is the true story of how a small band of British-special-ops-trained Czech patriots in exile parachuted back into German-occupied Prague in 1942 on a top-secret mission — code name: Anthropoid — to kill SS General Reinhard Heydrich, regional commander and third-highest ranking Nazi officer after Hitler and Himmler.

Anthropoid could use a lot more exploration of the emotional stress of plotting murderous sedition in a totalitarian state.

Alas, it’s a familiar-feeling tale even if you’ve never heard about this bit of historytweet and haven’t seen the 1975 movie Operation Daybreak, which recounts the same events. Slow to get moving, it does later manage some gripping tension, particularly in the sequence in which the actual assassination is finally attempted, and the explosive finale is smartly staged. But the highlights are mostly suspense thrills when the film could use a lot more exploration of the emotional stress everyone was under while plotting murderous sedition in a totalitarian state. Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea) and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey) — as real-life heroes as Josef Gabcík and Jan Kubis — turn in credible performances as the lead operatives on the mission, but the movie focuses far too much on the mechanics of their scheme, and far too little on the human risks and anxieties of the social infrastructure that gave them cover for pulling it off.

Little tastes of that come in the relationships the men develop with local women helpers (Anna Geislerová and Charlotte Le Bon: Bastille Day) — “romantic” walks and taking photos of your “girlfriend” are great ways of doing surveillance without arousing suspicion — and particularly via the landlady (the marvelous Alena Mihulová) who gives them a place to stay while they plot. Focusing more on that aspect of the story would have made it feel less like we’ve seen the likes of Anthropoid many many times before, and more like a worthy successor to writer-director Sean Ellis’s previous film, the absolutely riveting dramatic thriller Metro Manila. That movie was so enrapturing that it made me fall madly in love with its central characters. This one I found it quite difficult to get emotionally involved with at all… which is a real shame when it hopes to honor the vitally important task its subjects took on.

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Mon, Sep 12, 2016 5:59pm

Shame. Usually I’m not impressed when romantic subplots are shoved into a story in order to increase audience engagement, but one needs something.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Sep 12, 2016 10:33pm

It’s not romantic subplots this needs but much bigger acknowledgement that men are not the goddamn center of the universe.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Sep 13, 2016 5:42pm

and that women did plenty of underground and resistance work in the second world war.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Tue, Sep 13, 2016 10:41pm

And the women here do serve in that capacity. But the movie isn’t *about* them, and if it were, it would have felt fresher.

Mon, Sep 12, 2016 7:26pm

Oh, I was hoping this would be good. I’m rather obsessed with the topic of the Holocaust, and since Heydrich was one of the main architects of that abomination, I was thinking about seeing this film. I wanted to see if it mentioned any of the post-assassination events that were the result of it, such as the Lidice massacre (Nazis decimated the town of Lidice, killing over 340 people by shooting the men and sending the women and children to the death camp at Chelmno), and Operation Reinhard, named after Heydrich, which was the establishment of the three death camps at Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor.

I still might see it when it hits the cable channels, probably next year.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Kathy_A
Mon, Sep 12, 2016 10:34pm

since Heydrich was one of the main architects of that abomination

Yeah, but this was not common knowledge in 1942, and it’s certainly not a factor in the decision to off him.

I wanted to see if it mentioned any of the post-assassination events that were the result of it

There is mention, but just as a footnote.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Sep 12, 2016 11:38pm

That would be an interesting story to tell, actually – the first third of a film could be the bold heroes doing their thing, then the rest deals with what the poor beggars who lived there had to deal with afterwards.

reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Sep 13, 2016 9:00pm

That’s what I was sort of hoping would be happening in this film. Oh, well, maybe another director will eventually go that route.

reply to  Kathy_A
Sat, Sep 17, 2016 1:54pm

Kathy_A it’s worth going to see it to make your own judgment.
I have to say I didn’t know about this mission but went to see it because of a history obsessed friend.
We saw it last night with a group of friends, mainly couples and I have to disagree with the review in respect to the emotion of the movie.
I felt emotionally caught up in story from the outset and found the lead actors were able to portray resolute men, determined to fulfil their mission, yet struggling with suppressed fear.
They had little or no chance of survival as it was essentially a suicide mission and they knew it.
This morning I read up on the reality of this mission and found the film clings very close to the truth. It seems the depth of the romantic relationships and how these liaisons actually played out is were the poetic licence may have been used.
As a group of eight our views of the movie ranged from good to excellent and I wasn’t the only one to feel teary as the film neared its end.
Im clearly not an expert on filming angles or ways of filming, but the visual aspect of the footage seemed unusual.