Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerova, Toby Jones
Rated R for Violence and Some Disturbing Images
The central question one must ask when reviewing "Anthropoid" is whether or not three great scenes can redeem an additional 90 minutes of crap. Gene Siskel was fond of saying that a good movie must contain three great scenes and no bad ones. Well, "Anthropoid" has three great ones, but plenty of scenes that are lame or don't work at all.
After Czechoslovakia fell to the Third Reich shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Hitler sent in Reinhard Heydrich to quell the resistance. His ruthlessness earned him the nickname "The Butcher of Prague." The Czech government in exile, which had fled to England, sends in a number of soldiers with a single mission: eliminate Heydrich, regardless of the cost. The film follows two of the parachutists, Josef Gabcik (Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Dornan), as they develop a plan and execute it. Of course, when your mission is to take out a high ranking general of the Nazi regime, you can be sure of brutal reprisals.
This sounds like it could be a great movie. But it's not. Why? Let's start with the screenplay, which is all over the place and in desperate need of tightening up. The planning of a guerilla attack on a villain is something one would think would be cinematic, but director Sean Ellis fails to do so effectively.
Much of the rest of the film similarly misfires. In a bizarre, and ultimately pretentious, attempt to generate claustrophobia and suspense, Ellis has his actors mumble their lines. Used effectively, this can work, but when it's clear that none of the characters are in any danger (such as at a birthday party), it begins to annoy. He also resorts to the fallback of inexperienced directors: shaking the camera during the action scenes. Doesn't anyone realize that staging and editing make an action scene, not a frenzied camera?
The acting is fine, although Ellis keeps them so muzzled that one wonders if it's even appropriate to call what Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones and the rest of the cast are doing in front of the camera "acting." Similarly, the romance between the guys and the girls they enlist to provide a cover is so shortchanged that it causes more problems than it's worth. Ellis should have had the good sense to get rid of them entirely. It may not have been factually accurate, but it would have made the movie better (narrative films are not documentaries anyway, and as such should not be afraid of fudging or changing facts to tell a better story).
Just when things get to be a terminal slog, the film kicks into high gear with an action scene. There are three of them: the assassination attempt, the arrest of some minor characters, and the climax in a church. These scenes, particularly the climax, are handled with skill and are tremendously exciting. It's a pity then that the characters are so flat and the direction so pedestrian that not only do we not care very much about the protagonists (most of them aren't even given names), there's no sense of build to the conclusion.
World War II was the most widespread and complex conflict in human history, and as such will always continue to fascinate. The amount of stories to be told, fact and fiction, are limitless. The conflict has set the stage for films in every genre, some of which are among the best films ever made. So if you are craving a good espionage thriller set during World War II, skip this one and check out Paul Verhoeven's 2006 thriller "Black Book." In some ways its very similar to this one, only the quality is higher in every area. If you crave more action, wait for Blu Ray where you can skip ahead to the action scenes. Trust me, you wouldn't be missing much.