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Anthropoid: The Czech Pearl Harbor (Movie Review)

anthropoid thumbThe story behind operation Anthropoid has become synonymous with the history of WWII-based Czechoslovakia to the point of having several films made about it. There is even another one on the way later this year. For this take on the story, Anthropoid places a heavy emphasis on varying aspects that could play better for one film if the focus was stronger. As it stands, this story of the soldiers behind an assassination mission misses various marks in its first half to make it stronger, but delivers in its second half.

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Cillian Murphy and Jaimie Dornan are two paratroopers finding themselves back in their homeland. It’s December 1941 and these guys have been tasked with a mission to kill Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich is Hitler’s third-in-command and the main architect of the Final Solution. He’s also known as the Butcher of Prague. Dornan’s Jan Kubis is worrisome about this mission to say the least, but Murphy’s Jozef Gabcik sees why it has to be done.

Despite Anthropoid’s wavering in delivering a consistent narrative that allows for focus on these two, it is made clear that Heydrich’s assassination would create more problems. That’s an interesting angle to have and it’s a shame the key characters opposing this mission are not given more to say. The elimination of Heydrich would easily lead to more death and a film that properly acknowledged this angle as well as the symbolic gesture the assassination would be could easily play better overall.

Co-writer/director Sean Ellis clearly finds something interesting in seeing the leads interact with other resistance members, as a plan is concocted for how to eliminate Heydrich. For every sidestep the movie makes to focus on side-romance stories, various citizens involved and any other moment that requires another drab location, there is the engaging angle involving the planning required. It tends to come with any heist-like situation.

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Leave it to Toby Jones (an actor who has secretly made his way into working as hard as the likes of Samuel L. Jackson) to provide enough gravitas to make sure this plan feels important. That’s a huge factor in this film’s first half, as a lot of focus is placed on stoic personas and making sure we’re as depressed as the characters are. Obviously when dealing with a WWII drama, one does not assume levity will be taking place, but Anthropoid does a disservice to itself by focusing a good portion of its story on external causes of doubt and dourness.

It is in the second half that things pick up considerably. Not to spoil history, but the assassination attempt is made and (regardless of the results) we continue to follow Jozef and Jan, as well as the other paratroopers involved, as they take refuge in a church. It is here the urgency of the situation allows more leeway to be given for how the film places its politics in the background. There is some deliberation over the negative effect assassinating such a powerful enemy truly is and it results in some of the film’s tougher scenes. That said, this is eventually balanced by a climatic shootout that is every bit as exciting as it is grim.

Ellis may make too much out of having a chaotic shooting style throughout (he also serves as cinematographer), but he really makes the ugliness of war standout. As the film gets more serious about the results of an attack and the retaliation that follows, the film does its best not to waver in showing these extremes. Thousands of bullets are used in the final portion of this film and the impact they have is sure to have the desired effect, regardless of how strong you found these characters to be.

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The effort by the actors is to be appreciated. Murphy, in particular, has the most to work with. Both leads find themselves entangled in a romantic subplot, but at least Murphy’s doesn’t feel shoehorned in. Instead, we get to see a relationship factor in as just one of the many elements playing in his mind. His character’s introspection works far better than the outwardly expressed issues found in Dornan. At least Dornan attempts to breathe more life into this character as opposed to the block of wood he portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey.

If one can get past a large portion of the film’s setup, Anthropoid turns into a worthwhile effort to portray a significant event in WWII history. It is one of many events from a war that will seemingly never run out of stories to tell, but this one certainly measures high for the Czech people. Ellis equips himself well enough when it comes to his cast and certain filmmaker touches, I just wish he could have operated on a level that matched what he saved up for in the film’s second half. If the film was not going to hit on the complexities a bit harder, I would have at least enjoyed more of the inherent excitement from the scenario depicted.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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