The unflinching portrayal of Nazi reprisals in the wake of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich will stay with viewers long after seeing Sean Ellis’s film Anthropoid. A long forgotten story from World War II is told here in uncompromising detail and is enhanced by some fantastic performances, nerve jangling action set pieces and a nail biting score from Robin Foster.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan star as Exile Czechoslovak soldiers Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis who are parachuted back into their occupied homeland. With limited intelligence and equipment they must, in league with resistance fighters, assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect of the Final Solution and head of Nazi forces in German occupied Czechoslovakia.
Murphy and Dornan play their parts exceptionally well, with Dornan’s character and courage visibly growing throughout the film. Murphy is playing the unflinching soldier type that we have now grown accustomed to seeing him as after his role in Peaky Blinders. One only needs to imagine what Tommy Shelby would be like if he was from Czechoslovakia and you get an idea of how Murphy decides to play Gabcik in the film. Joining Murphy and Dornan are the likes of Toby Jones as resistance leader “Uncle” Jan Zelenka-Hajsky and Harry Lloyd as resistance fighter Adolf Opalka. They both put in strong performances and their final scenes are particularly memorable.
Without a doubt though some of the strongest performances in the film come from the female contingency in the cast. Charlotte Le Bon is both fragile and strong as the young and intitially naiive Marie Kovarnikova, Anna Geislerova is fantastic as Lenka Fafkova and commands the screen whenever she is present. Alena Mihulova puts in a very understated performance as Mrs. Moravcova but her final scene has perhaps some of the strongest acting in the whole film, it will be a long time before you will forget it.
A shoutout must go to Robin Foster for his understated yet terrific score that accompanies most of the film’s major set pieces. At times Foster just relies on one long chord to underpin the tension and drama unfolding on screen. It shows brilliant restraint and never allows the film to suddenly become over-egged, Ellis and Foster let the emotion play out through the performances rather than through over-exaggerated musical overtures. At other times, however, all the diegetic sound evaporates and Foster takes over. These moments, because they are so sparingly deployed, help to enhance the emotional and dramatic events unfolding on screen and allow us into the mind of the characters.
Ultimately, Ellis does well as both director and cinematographer. The action set pieces are well constructed and the final battle in the church is chaotic but coherent, every bullet and explosion packing a real punch. Ellis also had a hand in writing the project along with Anthony Frewin, the film is well constructed and while the last hour is much more tense and gripping than the first it never threatens to get boring. There is one scene that feels slightly exposition heavy but for the most part that is kept to a minimum, the dialogue is crisp, clean and never too wordy.
Anthropoid succeeds at telling a story that most people might not know of. It is an incredibly important story that probably should have been brought to screen a long time ago. It is an engaging thriller that never forgets the real importance of the story it is telling, never veering off into Hollywood territory. It is unflinching in it’s portrayal of the events of 27th May 1942 and the dreadful reprisals that followed and should be commended for that.