Overview: A telling of the titular operation, in which Czechoslovakian rebels planned the assassination of the third highest ranking SS Officer. Bleecker Street; 2016; Rated R; 120 minutes.
A True Story: The word “anthropoid” signifies a physical resemblance to human-kind. It is appropriate to define the characters of the film as such. One would, however, be perplexed to imagine any other adjectives for the paper-thin characters at the core of the film who seem to exist only to complete the next objective.
Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik – heroes of both Anthropoid and the war – are both brave men and vital to their nation’s history, though throughout the film, director Sean Ellis is hard-pressed to make an unfamiliar audience care. The two agents are portrayed by accent-heavy Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy, both acting with a lack of charisma and a pretense-less intensity. They are first defined by their mission: to assassinate SS general Reinhard Heydrich – the Butcher of Czechoslovakia. It is an urgent agenda, one which keeps death lingering perpetually overhead as circumstances force them further and further into the corner, but hardly any stakes are ever really felt. Dead set and stoic, the characters feel like depthless vessels for the mission; that he does not draw from the spirit of his heroes is disappointing, considering Ellis hits practically all of the historical aspects quite accurately.
Fantasy Romances: A half-hearted romance is injected, but it only infects his realistic and gritty war thriller with more undeveloped characters to keep track of, and a thick layer of Hollywood schmaltz. It forces the film into occupying a middle-ground between underdeveloped romance and true-to-life depiction of war. An uneven slow burn, it only ever becomes truly compelling at its admittedly explosive finale, though that is mostly a result of the inherent thrill of well shot (even if a tad generic) action and violence. Once the dust settles, the significance of the events in the film never really hit, and it becomes difficult to transfer but a morsel of sympathy (stemming from seeing bad things happen to good people) to these characters we never quite feel acquainted with.
Ugly Viscera: Staying faithful to portraying the facts – violent scenes are extremely so – the entire aesthetic of the film is drenched in an appropriate ugliness and a drab authenticity. It makes for an unappealing watch, but it retains a certain immersiveness that justifies the eyesore. Such is a defining aspect of the film itself: it is as truthful as can be expected. The film’s setting – the streets of occupied Czechoslovakia – is convincing, as is the premise itself with a refreshing abstinence of sentimentality. Ellis does do something interesting with language in his refusal to subtitle German, but is only able to because he forces the Czech characters into muttering English with harsh, often times incoherent accents.
Overall: Anthropoid is not unlike a chapter of a history textbook on the subject, which conveys its plot with detail and legitimacy, but it lacks the trappings of a truly fascinating film. It is all well constructed, even if its characters are not. Though not a bad movie by any means, it never feels like it does right by its subjects – instead, operating with a level of sustained mediocrity until the lasting effects of the film are nullified.
Featured Image: Bleecker Street