Anthropoid came and went virtually entirely under the radar in 2016. With a fairly limited UK release, needless to say it was out and gone, lost amongst the excitement for the Autumn blockbusters and generally ignored by many. This meant I missed out on it at the cinema and had to wait patiently until finally Netflix picked it up. Even then, it’s hidden away and requires a little searching to come across it. Seek it out though, it’s worthy of far more attention and praise than it’s so far received.
War films are not to everybody’s taste, but it’s a genre I remain fascinated by. Particularly in the quieter films like Anthropoid that explore particular events or circumstances of which I’ve yet to have heard. The name of the film comes from the code name that was assigned to the mission depicted on screen. I doubt many will know of the sacrifice that these men committed, the risks they took and the result that sparked catastrophic retaliation. I certainly did not. Much as at school I was taught certain things, the acts of our allies often went amiss and it’s certainly something I feel obliged to read up on.
Directed by Sean Ellis and starring Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy, the pair play Czechoslovakian soldiers who are part of the resistance, on a mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the chief instigators of many an evil for Hitler. Initially just the two of them, they quickly realise they’ll need allies and a plan.
This is a film that explores the themes of loyalty, pride, sacrifice and offers a thought provoking look at how actions always have consequences. It certainly makes you question whether or not action should be taken and the answer is not spoon fed to you but left deliberately ambiguous so that you take this away with you and think about it. It’s primary focus is not on big, epic battle scenes. Much of the action here is saved for the final section of the film and generally takes place in small, restricted areas. Prior to this it’s more of a tense thriller set against the backdrop of war. It’s no less powerful in that respect though. It’s intelligently made and finely acted. More a tight, character piece than sprawling blockbuster meaning that when the emotional hits land, they really hit their mark.
While I’ll admit an element of bias to the incredible talent that is Cillian Murphy, he really commands this role. It’s a complex role, the character determined, but sometimes coldly so and in the hands of a lesser actor it could have made him unsympathetic and frustrating. With Murphy that’s never a risk. There’s an incredibly clever shot that sums up why so many directors want him in their films and he doesn’t utter a word in it. One perfect shot just focuses on his face, those huge, blue eyes that do all the talking. There are many well-constructed shots, but this was the standout. Ellis and his team nailed this.
Murphy shares excellent chemistry with Jamie Dornan, though I believe it’s the first time they’ve shared the screen. Their friendship and camaraderie, as brothers in arms if you will, felt believable and the two played off one another well. A poignant moment comes when Murphy’s character calms down his friend using a technique that the latter then calls upon himself in the film’s climax to try and soothe another. There’s a dependant need for one another and the film plays on this, the pair are stronger together and underpin the key themes of the film.
There’s a strong, sometimes melancholic score that’s rather beautiful too. It didn’t jump out at me while watching the film too often, but I did feel inclined to play it independently and it held up. Tension is a key trick in what made this film feel powerful. Because of the nature of the story, and because you care about the protagonists, it’s a tough watch in parts. Another film where you feel yourself visibly uncoiling at the end, finally able to relax.
Like many films based on a true story, there is a combination of photographs and text used to fill in the blanks at the end of the film. The text tells you of the consequences of the Czech action, and it’s incredibly hard to read. So as the credits roll, you’re left in quiet reflection. This is a story that really needs to be known and the film does it justice.