Directed by Sean Ellis, starring Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerova and Toby Jones. Based on the true events of operation Anthropoid during WWII, with the purpose of assassinating SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the man behind the Final Solution and third in command of the Reich.
Anthropoid has all the classic ingredients of a spy war thriller, a story of brave men performing heroic acts for the greater good, spies that have been tasked with assassinating a dictator, the tension of secrecy, multiple love stories, the brutality of war and the inevitability of an impacting emotional third act.
Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy play two Czechoslovakian parachute spies who have been sent by London to assassinate Heydrich. Jamie Dornan is the quieter of the two and has a somewhat nervous disposition when tasked to kill. Dornan is perhaps most well-known for his various roles as psychopathic characters, a genre he excels at. In Anthropoid he displays a quieter more self-refective and nervous character who initially hesitates when he is required to kill. His performance takes some time to become believable and to reach a really convincing moment, or perhaps he is simply overshadowed by Cillian Murphy more convincing performance which dominates the screen.
Both Dornan and Murphy come from two shows where their characters presence as dark dangerous powerful men are the driving force of the show, yet oddly I felt Dornan lacked that presence in the film and felt his character was quite lacklustre until the third act barring one or two scenes.
There is something instantly believable in Murphy’s performance that Dornan initially lacked, barring one particular scene where Murphy coaxes Dornan’s character into a calmer state once Dornan begins hypoventilating. Dornan only really finds a greater depth of his character at the beginning of the second half of the film, perhaps find better footing once the flow and tempo of the film to begin to speed events along, and more importantly once he becomes separated from Murphy’s character.
In regards to the atmosphere of a spy thriller, Sean Ellis does manage to effectively capture the tension and importance of their mission. By using the small back rooms of restaurants, the exchanges of messages from one hand to another by slight of hand, and the minimalist use of music to instead rely on natural sounds, Ellis uses the genre of the spy genre with skill.
The style of the film, from costume to sets is particularly impressive, Ellis clearly has an eye for the small detail, prominent in every scene, which allows the audience to become absorbed by the narrative. The cinematography is stunning and there are some really quite beautiful scenes and moments with the characters which makes for a lovely distinction from the violence, mayhem and war forever present.
Though this film does take longer than expected to find it’s footing, once found, it treads firmly and with a purpose to the effect that I was completely taken in by the narrative. The film, in a way, disguises the fact that the first hour has been quite slow and perhaps deliberately so, as to build the tension of a spy film, so that when the third act begins it is emotionally very powerful and borders on becoming poetic. That is the feeling you are immediately left with rather than the feeling that comes later that the film is perhaps too formulaic.
OVERALL *** A slow start to an overall emotionally powerful and impacting but really brutal film, all the classic elements of a spy war thriller are present and I found myself becoming engrossed in its story once it found it’s own rhythm.
RECOMMENDATION- This is not a happy film, this is a realistic interpretation of war, at times there is love and at other times the brutality of that violent beast known as war. This will appeal to some, but other may choose to shy away, a compelling true story with huge ramifications for history.