Even on the best of days, dealing with the complexities surrounding the horrors of war is a complicated affair. While Anthropoid has the benefit of being a story that has never really been told before it suffers under the weight of a little too much self importance as it tries to hard to evoke emotion and tension where there just isn’t enough to work with to begin with.
This is actually based on the extraordinary true story of “Operation Anthropoid,” the code name for the Czechoslovakian operatives’ mission to assassinate SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution, was the Reich’s third in command behind Hitler and Himmler and the leader of Nazi forces in Czechoslovakia. As two soldiers from the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile, Josef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted into their occupied homeland in December 1941. With limited intelligence and little equipment in a city under lock down, they must find a way to assassinate Heydrich, an operation that would change the face of Europe forever.
I’ll be the first to admit that there is a clear and distinct malaise in the pop culture eye when it comes to World War II dramas. They have to bring something special and engaging to the screen in order for them to genuinely work. While Anthropoid does have a top notch climatic action sequence to cap it all off, the bulk of it plays as also ran melodrama that takes itself far too seriously with no moments of joy or levity that are necessary in any strong narrative to make the emotional bits feel all the more poignant.
Directed, shot and co-written by Sean Ellis, this movie is a pure case of ambition running a little more rampant then it probably should have been. It looks great (especially during a climactic battle sequence towards the end of the film) and has a decent flow to it all, but the script and love story that it tries to shoehorn into the overall narrative really barely works. It’s stylish, but it never feels important or even poignant as it goes through the plot points that you would expect from a WWII thriller. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that there is nothing terribly right with it either because we have seen plenty of movies play out like this one does. The script that Ellis co-wrote Anthony Frewin is just going through the motions and gets a little goofy at times when it tries to force character development on our two heroes, presents with holes in logic that are hard to ignore and fails to actually make us give a damn about anybody that we are seeing, which makes the moments where they force it, all the sillier bringing this movie down into a borderline mess. Everyone was trying, but there just wasn’t enough on the page to make it come to a place where we can engage with it on any kind of emotional level.
Jamie Dornan just isn’t very good here as he has limited range and he always feels like he is just along for the ride in this one. As a lead he can’t carry a picture and needs to be put back into more supporting type roles no matter how handsome he is, because quite frankly he just doesn’t have a lot of natural charisma, and when he has to force it, things just become that much worse. Cillian Murphy is working ass off here and is easily the more compelling of the two leads, at least until the end of the movie where everything just goes off the rails. People like Toby Jones and Charlotte Le Bon do what they can, but there is nothing here that allows anyone to breakout from anything that has been done before in the genre.
Ultimately, Anthropoid suffers because being a WWII story isn’t enough to justify the attempts at being very ‘self-important’ and ‘poignant’. It’s like when someone tells you how ‘deep’ and ‘emotional’ of person that they are when really they are the exact opposite. Anthropoid needed to feel far more genuine then it actually did.