Hot Take: Bipolar historical telling of Operation Anthropoid has a plodding first half filled with paranoia and a long, slow fuse. The second half is bloody, brutal and proof that war is hell.
Anthropoid is the type of film that could be great. It has the historical context and enough elements that lend themselves to being embellished by Hollywood in just the right way that historians won’t get too tweaked. So, why isn’t Anthropoid great?
Before talking about the shortcomings of the film, there are a number of reasons why Anthropoid is good. For one thing, it looks like the accuracy of the tale is fairly consistent with actual events. There is even a striking resemblance between the actors and their real life counterparts. Anthropoid has an authentic feel which is a double-edged sword as reality sometimes doesn’t have a flair for the dramatic. This might be why the first half of the film has moments that feel a little wooden and lifeless despite the ever present paranoia the men sent to assassinate SS officer Reinhard Heydrich suffer through. Depending on your temperament, the slow fuse that burns through the first two acts of the film will either be gripping or grinding as the film purposely and purposefully drags the viewer along. In some cases, it will suck the audience in but it is one of those films that could also turn the viewer off and see them tune out.
As with anything with a fuse, the movie eventually blows up and the third act proves war is hell and, at times, hard to stomach. After the assassination plot is carried out, it becomes a different movie. As the two men, Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy), become wanted, the Germans will stop at nothing to find them. This leads to some gruesome scenes of interrogation and torture. Once the Germans find the two assassins, a stand-off between the group behind the assassination and the Germans that lasts for a lengthy period of time. Representing a six hour real-life stand-off, the creative team behind Anthropoid gives the outnumbered but valiant team it’s just due.
As I said before, Anthropoid falls short of being great and can only be called good. The stark contrast of styles between the first half of the film and the second is jarring. For some, that won’t work. The first half could be too wooden and methodical for some. The second half could be too frenetic and violent for others. There’s an emotional connection missing to the material. It almost feels as if the film avoids capitalizing on the emotions of the Nazi occupation and subsequent atrocities. They are mentioned but purposely kept on the periphery throughout most of the movie. This is a missed opportunity. The film feels more textbook because of it and that’s a disservice to the material and the audience. It relies on the audience to remember what was so terrible and why this fight was important. Anthropoid expects you to get it and some will need to be reminded of how high the stakes were because the operation’s necessity while vitally important to the outcome of WWII feels debatable. Anthropoid being a good movie feels equally debatable.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Capturing the Paranoia
Credit some crafty visuals and Cillian Murphy’s performance for delivering the bulk of the paranoid feeling. By the midway point in the film, you cut the tension with a knife.
- Fantastic Visuals
The sepia tones and faded colors give the film an authentic classic feel.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- A Tale of Two Halves
The abrupt, contrasting style from one half of the film to the other is unexpected and uncomfortable. It’s hard to prepare yourself for the second half of the film and takes a while to get comfortable with it, if you ever do.
- A Missed Opportunity
While I thought Anthropoid was watchable and overall a good film, there’s something great in this story that never quite made it to the screen.