Published Aug 10, 2016Sean Ellis's film Anthropoid is a meditation on sacrifice — specifically, the tortuous decision whether to give your life and youth for a cause and, perhaps more tortuously, wondering whether it was worth it.
Set in 1940s Czechoslovakia, Anthropoid delves into the Czech and Slovak resistance plot to assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer and Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich, nicknamed "the butcher of Prague" and once described by Adolf Hitler as "the man with the iron heart." The movie mainly follows two fighters, Jozef Gabčik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), as they're parachuted from exile into a homeland unrecognizable from the one they once knew.
It's a tale of two halves. The first act is wrought with pacing issues and clichéd moments of token suspense. The intrusive addition of a romantic subplot does the film no favours, and Murphy is left to carry the proceedings (and his co-star) here, turning in a typically sparkling performance as the steely-gazed Gabčik in contrast to Dornan's rather milquetoast Kubiš.
The assassination attempt changes the complexion of the movie completely. Without giving too much away, the film comes roaring to life here, becoming the tense, high-stakes slow-burner it should have been all along, as the conspirators begin to devour themselves from the inside. Bookended by two heart-racing set pieces, the film's second half is scintillating viewing.
Though it suffers from serious pacing issues and mostly unmemorable performances, a dynamite second half and some lights-out acting from Murphy are enough to push Anthropoid over the top. Even if the film isn't quite as daring or well executed as it could have been, it manages to carve out a well-deserved place in the already bloated WWII subgenre, and that's reason enough for praise.