28.5.17

A Film a Week - Anthropoid

As the first series of title cards informs us, Anthropoid is the codename for a top-secret operation conducted by the Czech Resistence in Prague in the midst of the German ocupation during the WW2. The target was Reinhard Heydrich, “The Butcher of Prague”, the governor of Bohemia and Moravia, the ideologist and the engineer behind the Final Solution and arguably the third man in the chain of command of the Third Reich. The fact that you might not know about him is the confirmation (spoiler alert!) of the success of the brave men (and women) of the Resistence. The bastard died a couple of years before Nazis ran out of their luck.

It is not the first film on the subject, however. Two famous German emigrants in Hollywood made their films during the war. Both, Douglas Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman and Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die, could be considered the film-makers’ weaker pieces, since there was not nearly enough historic distance to put things into perspective. Several decades and films for both big screen and television later, it looked like the time was right for Sean Ellis (Cashback, Metro Manila) to make a compelling effort. Alas, it doesn’t work as well as it should.

The main problem is the film being a diptich, with the first part dealing with the preparations and the execution of the assassination and the second portraying the aftermath. Two of them feel like separate films welded together, with the gaping tonal inconsistence. The preparation part seems like a PG-13 tour of WW2 urban guerilla warfare, with obligatory Germans giving the suspicious looks to our heroes Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabčik (Cillian Murphy) and the rest of the gang lead by Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones), sticky situation and cover-up girlfriends Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová) that during the course of the film become the legitimate love interests. The aftermath part that mostly takes place during a church standoff between several Resistence fighters and German forces, stronger in numbers and firepower, is an action-packed excersise in cinematic brutallity.

The problems also occure in both the cinematic vision and technical aspects of Ellis’ film-making. The characters are pretty shallow, and the actors, especially Mr. Murphy, try to fix it by getting deep into them, but it still is not nearly enough to make them look like human beings rather than empty vessels. The dialogue riddled with the clichés is not helpful either, and the whole idea to film it in English with Czech and German accents is an insult to injury, especially when almost nobody gets the accent right. In the second part, the mixture of ultra-wide screen and hand-held camerawork makes the whole thing a total mess, aiming for the high naturalism, but ending in chaos of blood, meat, bones and bullets. Looks like Ellis serving as his own DoP was not such a good idea.


But the real trouble and viewer’s frustration is that Anthropoid could be far superior piece of cinema if the co-writer-director Sean Ellis only could get the right angle to it. And in two places, one at the very beginning and the other when the planning is under way, he almost nails it by asking the question if the whole action ordered by the government in exile in order to impress the allies is worth the sacrifice of the remains of the movement and the large number of Czech and Slovak civilians. The massacre in the village of Lidice was mentioned as a reference, but the complete answer can be found only in the closing title card. So, Ellis is dealing well the title cards, but what is in-between them needs some polishing.