In the midst of World War II, Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are parachuted into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia with a mission – codenamed Anthropid – to kill Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Prague”, both the exiled government of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Resistsance believe Heydrich’s assassination would be a coup for the Allied side, but there is no plan to get Jan and Josef to safety after their mission is complete.
Anthropoid is the first of two films about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich – the second being HHhH, due for release in the near future, and while this is a story of bravery and tenacity, there is also a certain inevitability to films about WWII, since we already know that no act of resistance was not strong enough to stop the war.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan lead the cast here and, some dodgy accents aside, both do well with the roles that they are given. They are both tenacious and driven in their belief in their mission, yet both mange to have a softer side, as is demonstrated through their relationships with Marie (Charlotte LeBon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová). That said, neither character is rounded out to be anything more than we see on screen, and we are never treated to any kind of back story or hint as to how these men got involved with Mission Anthropoid. As well as LeBon and Geislerová, the rest of the cast includes Toby Jones – who brings some gravitas to proceedings – Bill Milner, Brian Caspe and Hana Frejková.
Screenwriters Sean Ellis and Anthony Frewin attempt to get Anthropoid moving right from the off, but take little time to all the audience to get to know the two characters that we are meant to be rooting for. The first half of this wartime thriller is spent watching the characters have various secret meetings around Prague, and it is not until after the supposed climax of the movie that it truly gets thrilling. Some of the comings and goings of planning the assassination are drawn out, but the violent and bloody end to the movie really kicks up the pace and the stakes, it just comes that little bit too late.
As director Sean Ellis allows the movie to meander for the first half, but never really allows the audience to get to know the lead characters other than through their actions in the film. The tension is ramped up during this early part of the film, which allows the siege to fit into the story as a whole, but it does drag its heels to begin with. Ellis has coaxed strong performances from his cast, although some of them are underused, but the film itself is solid, although it could have done with a faster or more engaging first half.
In all, Anthropoid is a solid thriller that only really gets thrilling toward the end. Dornan and Murphy do well with what they are given, and allow the audience to root for them even though we learn little about them and the final crescendo of the film is engaging and utterly tense.