More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

There’s no excuse, in an age where reasonably reliable information is freely available at your fingertips, for my lack of knowledge about what happened in the then Czechoslovakia after it was largely handed over to Hitler’s Germany before WW2 in the Munich Agreement, or Munich Betrayal as I believe it’s more commonly known over there for understandable reasons. Our history lessons were more focused on the broad strokes and the British fronts, which has a certain logic but leaves a great deal of further reading for the interested. And while I’m interested in this, it’s also hugely depressing, and there’s these videos of cute kittens and puppies on the internet. Have you seen them? They are adorable.

Anthropoid aims to fill in a little of this gap, based around the plot to assassinate the hated “Butcher of Prague” Reinhard Heydrich, played here by Detlef Bothe. This charmer was one of the highest ranking Nazi officers, and is largely held responsible for Kristallnacht and later the so-called “Final Solution”, so even as someone uncomfortable with the general idea of extra-judicial killing, it could rarely happen to a more deserving target.

Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) are two exiled Czechs, working for the Government in Exile and trained by the Special Operations Executive. They’re parachuted back into Czechoslovakia with orders to kill Heydrich, who has been been using a brutal, execution heavy fist to crush any resistance to the annexation. Indeed once Jan and Josef manage to make contact with the resistance’s leader Uncle Hajský (Toby Jones), there’s only a handful of them left.

After a brief period of worrying about the possible repercussions, rightly as it turned out, Jan and Joseph set about coming up with a plan – you’d think there might have been some attempt at this beforehand, but I guess there’s no substitute for boots on the ground. It turns out Heydrich has a rather blasé attitude to his safety while transferring between his home and office, travelling in an open top jeep occasionally without any armoured escorts. Jan and Josef hit upon the route-one solution of ambushing him at a hairpin bend with a Sten gun and some modified anti-tank grenades. I guess they can’t all be Operation Fortitude.

As part of their cover they are introduced to Marie Kovárníková (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka Fafková (Anna Geislerová), walking around as young lovers being less suspicious than two blokes casing the joint. For both men these cover relationships become actual ones, even despite the very real risk that there’s no escape plan for either men after pulling the trigger on the assassination.

What follows is a matter of historical record – the coming close to failure when the machine gun jams, although wounds sustained from the grenade does Heydrich in a week later. The two manage to escape, but in the midst a massive manhunt there’s no way to leave Prague. The remaining resistance fighters hole up in a Cathedral, only to be betrayed by one of their own for a million Reichsmarks, leading to a tremendous firefight against odds that the Czechs ultimate cannot overcome.

Anthropoid winds up being one of those unrelentingly solid films that, while there’s not a damn thing wrong with it, is somehow quite difficult to get all that worked up over. Murphy and Dornan provide solid central turns, and they are both portraying brave, admirable men, but men that understandably aren’t’ the sort of flamboyant or overly dramatic character that you might write if you weren’t shackled by reflecting reality.

Likewise the supporting roles are well handled, Toby Jones in particular being his reliably excellent self. Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerová both play likeable, strong characters, doing a great job of showing it’s not just the men making sacrifices in wartime.

Director Sean Ellis squeezes some decent tension from certain scenes, and his handling of the shootout at the cathedral is very good indeed. Perhaps it’s too grounded and resolutely unspectacular for some in this age of comic book sugar-rushes, but, frankly, occasional accent slips aside, Anthropoid doesn’t do much wrong in the two hours you’ll spend with it. On that basis, I can’t not recommend it to everyone. So, go and see it, everyone.