Film: Very Good
Released: November 1, 2016
Genre: WWII / Drama / Action
Synopsis: Docu-drama on the Czech resistance’s successful assassination of top-ranked Nazi overlord Reinhard Heydrich.
Special Features: (none)
After expanding his Oscar-winning short film Cashback into a 2006 feature film and directing the eerie, atmospheric, but ultimately nonsensical horror shocker The Broken (2008), Sean Ellis took a break from feature films an flipped back to a few short projects, but recently came back with two intriguing dramas – the Philippines-based (and still unavailable) Metro Manila (2013), and the WWII docu-drama Anthropoid (2016).
Based on the real-life assassination plot Operation Anthropoid (a name the filmmakers should’ve retained in full, given the abbreviated title sounds like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama), Ellis and Anthony Frewin’s screenplay extrapolates the basic facts and provides familiar character intros as Czechoslovakian resistance fighters Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cilian Murphy) parachute into their Nazi-controlled homeland and nestle themselves with a family and plot the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS leader recently appointed by Adolf Hitler as Deputy and Acting Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
Heydrich was a co-architect of the Holocaust and Kristallnacht, making him a plum target to show the Nazis they were not immune to attacks, if not revenge for his brutal acts of human and cultural genocide, so the British-trained Kubis and Gabcik used their skills to coordinate an assassination on Heydrich during his routine, open-roof drive through Prague, exploiting his hubris and confidence.
Anthropoid’s first act is quite routine in following the two real-life heroes as they found refuge with a family, find a little romance, and sift through possible opportunities before setting on a specific day, time, and locale, but once the plan is put into motion, the film ratchets up the tension until a absolutely riveting finale in which the resistance fighters fend off Nazi troops for several hours in a church before succumbing to wounds and in some cases committing suicide.
Ellis, who also served as cinematographer, shot the film using a grainy film stock to evoke a docu-drama tone, although his jumpy handheld work in the film’s mostly staid scenes is unnecessarily busy, if not dated like an episode of TV’s NYPD Blue that pioneered the grating style in 1993.
Richard Mettler’s editing, however, ensures there’s never any discontinuity, and the final battle is a fine example of superb filmmaking that doesn’t devolve into ADD montage. The camerawork is raw and crackles with energy, while Robin Foster’s low-key score drones and grinds its way up to nastier chords to punctuate the increasing hopelessness and mounting carnage in the church siege. Mettler’s editing matches Ellis’ swooshing camera movements, plunging the viewer into the drama and extending the tension much in the way Michael Mann managed to expand the bank heist in Heat (1995) – measured, and meticulously coordinated visual nuances.
The performances by the cast are generally strong, but whereas Murphy’s able to (mostly) grasp the nuances of the Czech accent, Dornan keeps drifting to something more Germanic, which doesn’t help his performance. Anthropoid is vastly superior material than Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), but Dornan is still an actor with a limited range, and in being surrounded by superior actors, he’s often bested, except in the siege. Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerova have modest roles as doomed love interests, and Bill Milner and Alena Mihulova come into their own as the doomed son At’a and mother Mrs. Moravec.
Ellis largely holds back on detailed violence, and there are only two scenes that linger on horror, but they’re strategic and necessary to hammer home the Nazis outright brutality and hatred for the Czechs. The beautiful Prague locations add to the film’s sense of authenticity, as do the superb set décor, costumes, and props.
Even with its dramatic license, Anthropoid is a slow-burning WWII drama that celebrates the heroism of the Czech resistance and the successful assassination of the highest ranking official of the Third Reich. Universal’s Blu-ray is lovely but sadly lacks any extras that would contextualize this important act of heroism during WWII.
© 2016 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review