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

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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