World War II was the defining event, if it can be labeled such, of the twentieth century. Nearly every country in the world became involved in one way or another, with some suffering horribly. One of those countries was Czechoslovakia, in ways that are told in Anthropoid, a drama that tells one of the war’s many dramatic stories, though this is one of which I was unaware. The assassination of Nazi officer Reinhard Heydrich has been told in other movies, such as Hangmen Also Die! (1943, a Fritz Lang film!), Hitler’s Madman (1943, a Douglas Sirk film!) and Operation Daybreak (1975, a Lewis Gilbert film!), but I must confess that I’ve never seen any of them. This particular story has, until now, completely escaped my notice.
Sean Ellis’ film details how two Czechoslovakian agents parachute into their home country after extensive training in Britain, with orders to kill “the Butcher of Prague.” But they cannot act without help, and without the approval of the Czech resistance, and much of the story is comprised of political and ethical wrangling, weighing the killing of a top official against the probable reprisals that will take place should the attempt be successful. Anyone familiar with the history will know what happens; indeed, some of the tale, particularly the attack and its aftermath, is lensed on the very spots where they took place. I, however, was unfamiliar with the story, and so found the proceedings dramatically sound and increasingly suspenseful.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan portray the Czech agents with accents that are odd at first and iffy at times, yet that did not detract from the experience. Director and co-writer Ellis has done a marvelous job conveying how brutal and hideous the Nazi methods were in retaliation for the Heydrich attack; if anyone ever needs a reminder how bad they were, this is just one more effective portrayal of their inhumanity. I have heard or read some viewers over the years who believe that WW II and the Holocaust are ancient history; that there have been plenty, possibly too many books and movies about the nasty Nazis. And while I can see their point — for there are thousands of films that reference the war — I believe there will never be too many. Artistic expression against such horror is the best way to remind generations of people that for most of a decade the world was one awfully scary place, and that we are here, able to watch films like this, because the right side won. ☆ ☆ ☆. 26 August 2016.