Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerová
Directed by: Sean Ellis
Cert: 15A Running Time: 120 mins
Release Date: 9th September 2016
Great minds in Hollywood it would seem think alike as Anthropoid, the first film out of the gates to feature the true story of the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, get its release in cinemas this week. “They say, if you don’t have a competing project, you’re doing the wrong film” says writer/director Sean Ellis, unfazed by the arrival next year of Cédric Jimenez’ HHhH. As with most competing projects, one tends to overshadow the other and so fine a film is Ellis’, that it will be a tough one for Jimenez to follow up.
A passion project since 2001, he wrote, produced, directed and served as cinematographer to tell the story of Operation Anthropoid – the plot to assassinate Heydrich, the SS officer third in command after Hitler and Himmler and the main architect behind the ‘Final Solution’. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan play Josef Gabcík and Jan Kubis, the two men charged with leading the operation, parachuting into their homeland with murder in mind. As Josef points out when asked if it is murder, he responds that assassination is a better word – murder implying that it’s a life worth living in the first place. From the get go, Ellis pulls the audience in close and the fact that he did all but make the tea on set stands greatly to him. His confident approach as a writer to nailing his characters, his attention to detail as director, making the decision to shoot in the actual locations and his framing as cameraman, bring vitality and urgency to every scene.
Ellis shot the film hand held and though initially a little jaunty, it does settle, perhaps mirroring their perilous parachute drop into enemy territory and the cool composure they then need if they are to succeed. The film itself has a reportage look to it, particularly when they come face to face with the man himself, like newsreel footage, not dissimilar to the Zapruder footage from the Kennedy assassination in Dallas two decades later. It is indeed an important moment in history and Ellis’ treats it as such.
For those of you, who like me were unfamiliar with the story, worry not as its an advantage here, the outcome unknown as you perch perilously on the edge of your seat. To say more of the plot itself would be to spoil what unfolds. Murphy is a tour de force as always and though the film is billed as a two hander with Dornan, it is his heartbeat that pounds throughout the film. His Czech accent which he practiced as if “going to the gym for your mouth” is flawless. He is immersive and compelling and the camera can barely tear itself away from his face at times. Sadly, Dornan finds himself in Murphy’s shadow for much of the film. He is a more understated actor, his accent soft as if uncertain and we therefore are uncertain of him, though he more than acquits himself in the action scenes.
The supporting cast are all excellent and Czech actor Anna Geislerová is outstanding as the stoic Lenka, who with her friend Marie (Le Bon) provide cover for Jan and Josef when they are in public. The scene where they first meet in a dancehall is terrific, both girls looking glamourous while Josef remarks how their lipstick could get them all killed. They are too attractive he says and they must blend in or they will all be shot. It is this constant knife edge on which they all live that makes the story so compelling. Toby Jones also is handmade for his role as the local leader of the Prague resistance and though he is largely on the side-lines, one of his scenes in particular is nail-bitingly tense. It will be interesting to see the direction HHhH will take but this personal, stylish, tense, superbly acted drama ticks all the boxes. It will be a hard act to follow.