World War II made life particularly difficult for the people of Czechoslovakia. The country had to contend with a certain Reinhard "The Butcher of Prague" Heydrich (Detlef Bothe), a Nazi extremist who was the mastermind behind the Final Solution. Heydrich led the Nazis who occupied the country and turned Czech against Czech as he created an environment of fear during his reign. He was a real son of a bitch, a man whom even Adolf Hitler found a little scary.
With his new film Anthropoid, which opens Friday at Tower City Cinema, Regal Crocker Park and Cinemark Macedonia, writer-director Sean Ellis (Metro Manila) revisits Czechoslovakia during the time period to tell the remarkable story of how Jozef Gabík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), two soldiers from the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile, parachuted into Czechoslovakia to try to take out the Butcher. A thrilling film based on actual events, the movie benefits from the fact that the story of Jozef and Jan's valor hasn't been told and retold in the past. Unlike many war movies that center on stories with known outcomes, Anthropoid centers on a little known story.
Not knowing the outcome creates a good deal of suspense in Anthropoid, and Ellis gives these war heroes the tribute they deserve by depicting the ardor of their task in his historical drama.
When Jozef and Jan land in the woods outside Prague, things immediately begin to go wrong. Jan cuts himself on a branch and can barely walk, and the farmer who finds them turns out to be a turncoat. But they eventually make their way into the city and work with other resistant fighters there to coordinate a plot to assassinate the Butcher.
Given their limited resources (they have little in terms of guns and ammunition), Jozef and Jan don't seem to have much chance of pulling off the assassination. But they make the best of what they do have and come up with a plan that involves intercepting the Butcher as he leaves Nazi headquarters one day.
It's not giving too much of the film's plot away to say that their plan doesn't go off as intended and the duo then has to endure the wrath of the Nazis. The film's second half focuses on the way the Nazis tore through the city to try to find the guys who tried to assassinate their leader. The torture scenes are particularly excoriating, and the body count rises as the Nazis struggle to find where the assassins have hidden. The film effectively conveys the horrors of war.
Dornan is terrific as Jan, a fighter willing to risk anything to complete the task at hand. And Murphy excels as the less-assured Jozef, a guy whose hands shake so much that he has trouble firing a pistol when he and Jan begin their venture. By the end, he becomes a ruthless solider, a transformation that Murphy handles adroitly. In fact, the other actors and actresses in the ensemble cast all deliver compelling performances as well.
The audience for a war film that centers on a Czech assassination attempt in World War II may be limited, but that doesn't diminish the film's power.