Director: Sean Ellis
Starring: Jamie Dorman, Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerová, Marcin Dorocinski, Alena Mihulová
Written by: Sean Ellis and Anthony Frewin
Running Time: 120 mins
Release date: 9th September 2016
Real life stories of extraordinary courage and heroism have always been and will probably always be, an obvious choice for filmmakers to create exciting, gripping dramas. The tales surrounding World War II, which is brimming with heroism and bravery, can be more than tempting to retell. So Metro Manilla director Sean Ellis has done just that and chosen a period of history that very little is known about, the small group of ordinary men plotting to assassinate a top SS general. Sadly the film doesn’t quite do justice to the incredible escapade that these men put themselves through.
In 1942, the Allies launch the bold and daring Operation Anthropoid in occupied Czechoslovakia. Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis are among seven men parachuted behind enemy lines on a mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich. Infamous as the ‘Butcher of Prague’, Heydrich is one of the chief architects of the Holocaust and third in command in the Nazi hierarchy after Hitler and Himmler. The duo joins forces with the depleted local resistance led by Jan Zelenka-Hajsky and set about planning this seemingly impossible task in a city under lockdown.
This little-known event in World War II is obviously a pet passion for co-writer and director Sean Ellis, who gave us the brilliant yet unseen Metro Manilla a few years back. Ellis has been developing the film since 2000 when he watch a documentary on the subject. Sadly the film doesn’t quite hit the mark, mainly because of the painfully slow first half.
We see the two central characters as they plan and plot, disagree with the resistance and create covers for themselves. These moments sometimes are way too long and even though the acting is of a high quality, there are scenes which could have done with some major editing, as they drag on without any real conclusions. The film also suffers from loose ends not being neatly tied up. One central subplot involving a young girl used as cover seems to just have been forgotten by the end of the film.
It’s only in the second half when the assassins put their plan into action that the film really kicks starts into life. Ellis manages to prove he is a talent when it comes to building tension and directing action sequences. The final shoot-out, in which the German army are closing in on the resistance, who are hiding in a church, is both nail-biting and exciting, where the editing really comes into its own and for the final hour, you are gripped.
The performances are universally good. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, as the two main assassins, handle their accents well, even if it does take a few minutes to get used to, and the always excellent Toby Jones is terrific as Jan Zelenka-Hajsky. Some of the lesser characters, who played an important part in the operation, did come across as sketchy but everyone involved gives it their all.
If anything, coming out of Anthropoid, you do feel that this is a film of two halves. Having to struggle through the first hour, the film redeems itself in the second, which is a pity as I admire Ellis as a filmmaker and he is an obvious talent. Coming soon is HHHH, another variation of this story. Hopefully, if it can capture the tension of the second hour, then it will be worth watching. Until then, go see Anthropoid to find out about an event that might have passed you by but expect a slow journey to get to the really good stuff.