Anthropoid is the true story of an operation, code name Anthropoid. Yes, the name does have a meaning to it, and its meaning was the intention of a small group of Czech resistance soldiers who had been parachuted into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia to assassinate one of Nazi Germany's most ruthless leaders, Reinhard Heydrich, who was second only to Himmler and Hitler. In rank, not necessarily in their enthusiasm for brutality, but more importantly, in their ability to commit genocide on a previously unheard of scale of systematic extermination. Reinhard Heydrich is credited as being one of the major "architects" of devising and implementing the final solution. A methodology that was used to exterminate millions of people as quickly and effectively as possible. You'd be hard pressed to find a more sinister figure in the Nazi party than the "Butcher of Prague" himself, a man who has the blood of thousands upon thousands of people on his hands, probably more.
It's always amazing to me how many different stories have come out of World War 2, and continue to do so. All of which often highlight the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. I think that's why, at least partially, it's always been such a fascinating war to learn about it. Even though it's almost unbelievably grim and morbid, it's also somewhat sobering, edifying and even inspirational in some cases. Adolf Hitler signing the Munich Agreement in late 1938 and was seen as a victory for diplomacy at the time, and in early 1939 Hitler marched his troops into Czechoslovakia and took it over, breaking the Munich Agreement. Hitler placed Reinhard Heydrich in charge of quelling any Czech resistance and he did so immediately. The allies had basically given Hitler Czechoslovakia in a vain attempt at appeasing him, but to no avail. Hitler never had any intentions of stopping.
The history surrounding Anthropoid, both before and after it is extensive to get the full picture of what was going on exactly, but Sean Ellis (director) does a good job of painting a picture with some old archival footage and a few terse, but succinct paragraphs that help set the stage well. We follow comrades in arms, Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) as they experience firsthand how tight Hitler's grip is around their beloved country. They proceed to infiltrate their own country and pose as citizens, which they are, but they're also British trained citizens with an eye out for Heydrich's head. Some of the emotional drama didn't really work for me and felt a bit forced and too obvious at times, though other times it felt deeply saddening and disturbing. Suffice to say that Anthropoid is a dramatically erratic movie, but I found that (unsurprisingly) Cillian Murphy provided most of the emotion and kept the balance of the movie on a somewhat even keel. I liked how the difference of the two leads and their ladies was contrasted visually. As you can see above most of the scenes featuring Jan and Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) were clearer and filled with more blue indicating hope and possibly naivety on their part. While the scenes featuring the older Josef and Lenka (Anna Geislerova) were drenched in sepia and indicated a bleak and desperate situation that they knew full well probably wasn't going to end well for anyone.
Anthropoid also took a decent amount of time to gather its momentum, it was a very slow movie to get going. It's also a movie of two halves, there's the pre-assassination half and the post-assassination half. The best bits were naturally in the second half, mostly because that's where all the pay off is. The first half is setting everything up, and the second half is capitalizing on the characters and their situation that was established in the first half. The first half was at its best when it was sticking to the facts, the set up of the assassination, which was unprecedented in scope and ambition at the time. Although the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria that kicked off The Great War should probably be considered in the same league. I think what gives the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich more weight is that no one really foresaw the domino effect that assassinating Ferdinand would have on the world, but everyone involved knew that assassinating Reinhard would be bringing down the relentless wrath of the Third Reich down upon themselves, their families, and their countrymen. Hitler would show no mercy to Czechoslovakia, and he didn't.
However despite the interesting true story behind one of the most audacious assassinations of World War 2, Anthropoid is more often than not an awkwardly framed and overall aesthetically unappealing movie. I don't mean the graininess of it either, I like the grain, just the way it was shot. There's some nice on-location establishing shots here and there, but the cinematography was too close and too wobbly most of the time for me to really get immersed in the story. It's probably not as bad as I'm making it sound, but it took me out of the movie quite a few times. The stakes of the assassination felt real, and the tension after the assassination was palpable. The action was quite well shot as well. It was minimal, but effective and powerful as seven men held off thousands(?) of SS Nazi soldiers for six long hours.
Everyone knows the quote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." and these good men took action against evil. Whether their actions were ultimately worth it will always be speculative, but it's hard not to sympathize with the people who had very little to do with it bearing the brunt of the repercussions of the assassination. It was still a price worth paying if you ask me. When a man like Adolf Hitler calls someone "the man with the iron heart", you know they're not to be trifled with. And in times of war, if a man like that can be taken out, then he should be. But these are the sorts of questions that Anthropoid asks. "How do you measure the value of one life against many?" Had Reinhard Heydrich lived, might the war have turned out differently? Thankfully, we never had to find out thanks to brave patriots like these seven men who took action and prompted Churchill to finally declare Czechoslovakia of importance and that the Munich Agreement was utterly useless against a man like Adolf Hitler. Anthropoid is a compelling, but flawed movie about the courage and sacrifice that not everyone has to try make a difference in a world gone mad.
Written by - The Sentry - 29/10/2016