Released in limited theatrical markets last August, the rather stunning WWII espionage thriller Anthropoid deserved a much higher profile. Co-written, produced, and directed by Sean Ellis (the brilliant Metro Manila), who also served as his own astute cinematographer and nimble camera operator, this riveting piece of work tells the true story of Operation Anthropoid, which centered on the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the chief architects of the Nazi’s Final Solution, and the harrowing battle that took place in the immediate aftermath. The always focused Cillian Murphy and fast-on-the-rise Jamie Dornan (similarly gruff and commanding in Netflix’s The Siege of Jadotville) are both excellent as the Czech soldiers who are sent into their occupied homeland with a dangerous mission in tow, and because I didn’t know anything about this particular story, I was continually left guessing as to how it would all play out, and if the dangerous plan would be successful.
And from what I’ve been able to read about the production, Ellis and his creative team went to great lengths not to fudge the facts, making this story even more remarkable and sobering. Every film that’s based on actual events has to consider how to balance authenticity with poetic license, and in this sense, Anthropoid feels extremely well-calibrated. Ellis and co-writer Anthony Frewin keep the action moving for a tight two hours, with expert editor Richard Mettler’s judicious cutting keeping a fast but coherent pace, ratcheting up the intensity during the film’s bloody and forceful action sequences, especially during the protracted finale. The final 20 minutes amount to something of a tour de force of filmmaking, showcasing a large-scale shoot-out that gets up close and personal with the combatants on both sides, never shying away from any of the grim truths that the situation presented.
Reportedly shot for $9 million and looking like it cost much more than that, Anthropoid’s production values are very robust, with Ellis’ tactile, hand-held camerawork producing the appropriate amount of necessary anxiety to heighten the already precarious mission, while the musical score by Robin Foster never overplayed anything, instead subtly ingratiating itself into the proceedings. The strong supporting cast includes Toby Jones, Charlotte Le Bon, Harry Lloyd, Anna Geislerova, and Bill Miner. Shot entirely in Prague and in many cases at the actual locations of the events depicted, Anthropoid never feels anything less than extremely confident about itself, with immaculate production design and art direction courtesy of Morgan Kennedy and Radek Hanak, respectively. Currently available on Blu-ray and via HD On Demand streaming options, it’s a shame that Anthropoid has quietly slipped by so many viewers, as it’s well worth checking out.