As soon as the film opened, I knew this was not going to be a glossy watch. World War Two films are not hard to come by, but one based on actual events from the perspective of Czechoslovakian operatives is a rarity in cinema.
As soon as the movies rolls you know you are in for an exhausting two hours, and that’s a compliment to how the film has been placed together. It’s rough snowy opening when the parachutists land in the middle of woodland is only just the beginning of a slow tentative but an intense drama that unfolds slowly right until the very end. The story which is based on actual events follows two Czechoslovakian soldiers Josef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) tasked with Anthropoid which is an operation code name for the assassination of SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich, the primary architect of the Final Solution, was the Reich’s third in command behind Hitler and Himmler and the leader of Nazi forces in Czechoslovakia.
The mission seemed impossible regarding their mortality, and as the film moves from the second act to the third, you feel the weight of situation they find themselves in and the consequences of their actions.
As soon as both men land in their parachutes, they are thrown into a situation of survival and keeping themselves invisible in their homeland where Heydrich is based, and they become concealed amongst the resistance who have their systematic ways of keeping themselves merged within society under Nazi ruling. You are essentially in hiding with the characters who are part of a safe house. The film allows you to sense the danger; it has its way of making you feel on edge with each sequence of scenes. Very few films manage to capture the idea of the intense scrutiny and pain you must have been under in Nazi territory. While we will never be able to experience it like for like this movie manages to close you in to the point where you feel claustrophobic within its settings. The pace of the film helps, its burns slow like a newly lit fire, and it tentatively grows into a large flame when it reaches the second half of the movie. The dialogue is direct and to the point by the time both men get to the resistance which equally adds to the seriousness of the situation. Their mission is coupled with an oddly planned romance so the men can further go under the radar by showing they are ‘normal’ in the face of the Nazis. The romantic feelings only make the task at hand even more challenging when the assassination attempt takes place and by the time that scene comes you have a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because you know deep down nothing is simple.
The film places you in the setting of a town very much pressured to live under the terms of the Nazis. It is an entrapment that Josef and Jan have to overcome. The mission seemed impossible regarding their mortality, and as the film moves from the second act to the third, you feel the weight of situation they find themselves in and the consequences of their actions.
When they are desperate, you feel it. When they feel enclosed, you feel it.
The film is split into three essential acts; the planning, action and consequence. By the time you get to the third act, I all of a sudden felt overwhelmingly stressed, and that is again credit to the performances of all the cast and director Sean Ellis because while the slow, tentative build up is tedious, it provides enough on a plate to keep you gripped but oddly tense. The way the film portrayed the Nazis response to the assassination attempt is nothing short of horrific. I got this feeling that the characters were struggling to come to terms with the consequences, almost like they couldn’t breath making you as the viewer feeling more claustrophobic because whilst assassinating Heydrich felt necessary it did not conclude the war and nor did it relieve the Czechoslovakians. You feel so stressed by the end because the movie portrays the reality of the situation which conveys hopelessness. We are witnessing a narrative at the time where the Nazis felt their peak.
By the time the credits roll and the music instantly stops I assure you that you will be amongst an audience in silence all feeling the same as you when the cinema lights turn on.
The leading performances from Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan are honest to the pace of the film as well. They set the tone with their use of dialogue. There is a scene in particular near the start where they go on a double date which is ridiculously plagued by paranoia, and they are forced to act normal due to their rightful opinion that the Gestapo may become aware of them. And the unease both actors display appears so natural that you can sense the strain they are placing on the two women. With this, you feel paranoid about them, and the feelings imposed by the film’s performances and settings is consistent all the way through. When they are desperate, you feel it. When they feel enclosed, you feel it.
Overall the film is tedious. It’s tense. It’s slow. It’s stressful. This is what makes the movie an excellent showcase of a history that some will not know much about. It is honest and direct to the point regarding the situation. By the time the credits roll and the music instantly stops I assure you that you will be amongst an audience in silence all feeling the same as you. The tension in the room felt slightly uncomfortable, and it was only lifted once I made it outside. The movie provides breathtaking cinema.
Conclusion: Be prepared to feel stressed by an honest, tentative World War Two film.
Did I check the time? No
Would I watch it again? Yes
Director – Sean Ellis
Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis
Cillian Murphy as Josef Gabcik
4.6 stars out of 5
By Dan Hart
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