In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
It wasn’t until about halfway through Anthropoid that I realized there had been no music. A small bass swell here and there, but no score. Coupled with a mostly handheld filming style, it has a documentary feel that many will find bland, but more patient viewers will find to be a sizzling slow burn with an explosive payoff. Operation Anthropoid was a plan to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi leader whose violent ways were taking a toll on the factory workers of newly occupied Czechoslovakia. Anthropoid, the latest film from director Sean Ellis (Cashback, which is on Netflix and is a ton of fun) begins at the very moment our would-be assassins (Cillian Murphy & Jamie Dornan) parachute into Czechoslovakia and follows them through the planning and execution of their mission … and then some.
It’s a strange structure for a thriller, but it mostly works. By placing the assassination in the center of the film, we see something that so few films of this type tend to offer: the aftermath. It’s appropriate given that during the planning stages, our team of mercenaries is constantly asking each other “what happens after the deed is done?” It’s a scary question, and one that leads to everyone being handed a cyanide capsule, just in case.
It’s not the most memorable of war-time thrillers, but all of the pieces are there – Period-style clothing and speech, explosive bouts of shocking violence and the subsequent shell-shock. There’s even a coded message or two. But what makes Anthropoid stand out (or perhaps dooms it to be forgotten) is how little flare is offered. As previously stated, there is no score, nor is there any dynamic camerawork. It’s one of the few times that shaky cam (mostly) worked for me. For the most part, I felt like I was there.
Where Anthropoid stumbles is in the characterizations. There are a few romances that, perhaps due to the amount of ground to cover, aren’t given time to simmer. As a result, when these bonds are challenged there is little reason to feel what the film asks of us. Additionally, so little is known of our two leading men that they fall victim to assumed empathy. Sure, I know Nazis are bad, but there isn’t much driving our heroes besides the mission itself. And the way it all ends points to a superior, albeit longer film which could have given this story more room to breathe, and a fuller, weightier arc as a result. As it is, the individual parts function gracefully, but it feels like a few small tweaks could have really brought this home. It’s a very good film that frustrates because it could have easily been great.
Regardless, it’s a true story and we must make of that what we will. It’s certainly a piece of WWII history of which I was wholly unaware, and that makes it a story worth telling. Moreover, it’s wonderful to see a promising new filmmaker flex his wings and mostly succeed. It’s also promising to see Jamie Dornan hold his own amongst the likes of Cillian Murphy and Toby Jones. As a defender of Fifty Shades of Grey, and of Dornan’s performance within, it brings me great joy to not have even recognized him in Anthropoid until I sat down to write this review. It should be noted that immediately upon exiting the theater, my girlfriend couldn’t stop noting how hunky he was … which is exactly what gets you cast in Fifty Shades of Grey.
Anthropoid opens in Philly area theaters today.