With an event as massive as World War II the potential for stories is endless. There have been a myriad of WWII films, and many more continue to be made because so many people were affected by it. Thanks to writer-director-producer Sean Ellis, he was able to bring to the screen a story not known by many outside of Europe. It took him 15 years to get this made so it was definitely a labor of love. Based on its final product, Anthropoid is an excellent entry into the war film genre and may be cited as one of the best WWII films.

Set in Czechoslovakia, Anthropoid is a fact-based account of a military operation of the same name. The operation, led by Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan), resulted in the assassination of one of Nazi Germany’s highest-ranking officers, Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe), widely-known as the “Butcher of Prague.” As the creator of the “Final Solution” Heydrich was considered one of Adolf Hitler’s darkest officers. He and his Nazi forces executed the Final Solution, the genocide of millions of Jews, without remorse. Jozef and Jan, who were Czechoslovakian exiles when they returned to their home country, maneuvered around many obstacles to execute their highly-improbable plan. The pair received help from other exiled agents and by two women, Marie Kovarnikova (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka Fafkova (Anna Geislerova), who posed as their girlfriends to keep from arousing suspicion.

With a script co-written by Anthony Frewin, Anthropoid is a slow burn. In that sense this may not a film for everyone. Having said that, the intensity level is set to high from the opening credits and it continues to increase as the film continues. Not knowing much of what happened during Operation Anthropoid, I observed Ellis’ film to be more of a character study looking to tackle the question - is more violence the answer to violence? According to Jozef and Jan it’s yes, especially considering the sadistic nature of Heydrich. As is the case with any war, survival seems to be the only thing of any importance.

With that in mind, I was surprised to witness during its conclusion one of the more rousing shootouts in recent memory. After Heydrich was assassinated Jozef, Jan and other agents hid in a church to await travel out of the country. Their presence there was discovered and Nazi forces came in great numbers to eliminate their leader’s murderers. According to historians the seven men held off German soldiers for over 6 hours before they finally perished. This conclusion shifts the focus from the assassination, thus making the mission seem anti-climactic. Anthropoid earns its slow burn status because any excitement contained within is left for the end. Essentially this feature is like a meeting in which the winner of the big contest isn’t announced until after everyone has had to sit through stuff they don’t care about. In this case it’s up to the viewer to decide if everything leading up to the shootout is worth it. For me, the fina third is worth the wait, especially since I never expected any of it.

Of course, by reading this I am giving away a lot but this story has been around for ages and can be easily looked up. Sean Ellis was fascinated with this story and he told it to audiences in an excellent fashion. The acting is strong – I forgot Jamie Dornan played Christian Grey in the forgettable Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not to say he’s the best actor out there but he was good enough here to have me believing he really is Jan Kubis.

Anthropoid, considering the low amount of quality films out this summer, is a satisfactory war film which rides on constant intensity, the horrors of war (and genocide) and an impressive conclusion to earn an exclamation point at the end of its statement. For some it may feel like a history lesson but when people’s lives are at stake this is much more than that.

4 stars out of 5

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