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Anthropoid – Movie Review: “a wartime thriller desperately lacking in thrills”

25 August, 2016 — by Ben Rabinovich0

Anthropoid is wartime thriller depicting the real-life assassination plot of a high ranking Nazi, that despite its best efforts, lacks focus and tension.

poster for Anthropoid movie showing silhouette of a man in a nazi uniform on a red background

At the beginning of Anthropoid, two resistance fighters parachute during the black of night into freezing-cold Czechoslovakia to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the overall head of security of German-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1941. Heydrich is a man so vile he is nicknamed ‘The Butcher of Prague’ and is the architect of the Final Solution.

One of the men is badly injured and leaves a trail of blood, which is picked-up by two other resistance fighters who turn out to be working for the Nazis. A bloody fight ensues, and someone is shot. One of the resistance fighters, bloody, bleeding yet serene stands and contemplates his surroundings and plots the next step.

It’s a hectic, brutal and intense opening 20 minutes, so it’s a shame that the film is unable to sustain the same tension evenly over the remaining 100 minutes. It’s more of a shame because it had the material and potential to do so.

Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy sit in an old car in Anthropoid film

The very nature of the real assassination plot – the incredibly high stakes, initial failure and fatal consequences, camaraderie and betrayal – all could have been mined to make a very powerful and thought-provoking film. Unfortunately the film’s fatal flaw is a lack of focus.

In the first half of Anthropoid, the assassination plot is actually just the backdrop to more romantic matters, as the two fighters (Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan) become involved with two Czech women (Charlotte Du Bon and Anna Geislerova).

Oddly, given their prominence, these relationships are merely sketches and move along at such a breathless pace that they lack any real gravitas. It’s even more peculiar given that the second half of the film, which dedicates itself to the execution of the assassination and its consequences, barely affords any screentime to Le Bon and Geislerova.


In re-shifting its focus back to the plot and the resistance fighters, the film manages to tap back into the intensity of the first 20 minutes. Sean Ellis, on directing and co-writing duties, feels like he’s infinitely more comfortable directing scenes of chaos than of romance.

The camera becomes Jason Bourne-level shaky as the fighting and violence crescendo, this perfectly captures the sense of panic and urgency as the Nazis begin their campaign of retribution.

Unfortunately, it’s too late by that point. Anthropoid and its characters rarely concern themselves with the deeper aspects of their plot. Would the death of one high ranking Nazi be damaging to the regime? Wouldn’t he be replaced by another equally repulsive and brutal Nazi? Is Heydrich’s life worth the lives of thousands of Czechs who would inevitably die during retribution? These questions don’t need to be answered, but they certainly should have been debated. By not doing so nearly enough characters are underdeveloped, their motivations, courage and terror are no more than a veneer.

This is also partly down to the relative absence of any Nazi violence in the first part of the film. The sheer horror of the regime that should have been a persistent reminder of the risks, is not really felt until after the assassination. This lack of tension in-between the opening and closing 20 minutes is fatal.

Jamie Dornan holding a machine gun wearing a jumper in a church. Anthropoid movie

There is also the issue of the actors speaking in English but with Czech accents. Whilst it did, at times, help create a more believable Czech world, more frequently, particularly in highly emotional scenes, it felt as if the accents hindered the actors’ delivery.

However, despite all of this, the film should be appreciated for its sincere attempt to tell the story of an incredible group of people who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save their people and their country.

Cillian Murphy and Toby Jones particularly stand out and try their best to add much needed weight and emotional depth to their characters. The final showdown, in which the resistance fighters are besieged in a church by some 750 SS soldiers is brutal, well photographed and comes close, extremely close, to salvaging the whole film. 2/5

Check out the rest of the latest cinema releases in our new movie reviews section, including Pedro Almódovar’s Julieta.


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