Anthropoid is Sean Ellis’ account of the titular operation, enacted by Czech resistance fighters, to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was third-in-command of the Third Reich, author of the Final Solution, and in charge of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. His brutal regime earned him such epithets as the Butcher of Prague.
Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan), the assassins, are parachuted in just outside Prague. Gabcik is a man on a mission, a mission he’ll complete no matter what. He is slow to trust and sees potential enemies at every corner. Kubis is more hesitant. An idealist, perhaps, but an untested one.
Gabcik and Kubis are aided and abetted by what’s left of the Czech resistance, namely Ladislav Vanék (Marcin Dorocinski) and Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones, a woefully underrated actor). Ellis’ handheld camera noses its way into the first act’s secret meetings like another conspirator, lending the film an immediacy and urgency.
Surprisingly, the assassination itself takes place at the halfway mark. The soundtrack, largely absent from the film, rises toward a restless crescendo as the tension mounts right up until the first shot is fired (or not, as the case may be). It is a tense and anxious scene that descends into tragic chaos. It is also the highpoint of the film. It’s all downhill from here.
After the assassination attempt (those familiar with these events will know how it turns out; I won’t spoil the details for those who aren’t), all the narrative tension is drained from the film. The finale, under-armed fugitives versus the might of the Third Reich, is competently mounted, but once it begins it is obvious where it’s going and we’re simply not invested.
Anthropoid’s problem is this: it wants to be both a character study and a historical thriller, but can’t manage the juggling act. Both aspects are executed well enough; the material is compelling, the script and actors up to the task. But neither is given room to breathe. Anthropoid is well crafted, but ultimately uninteresting.