WWII Film Review – Anthropoid (2016)

Long periods of boredom interspersed with a few seconds of terror. That is how men have described combat. Undercover operations takes that to a new level.

Anthropoid (2016), directed by Sean Ellis, is a tension-packed film based on true events. I watched it twice before reviewing. The film tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of the brutal Nazi third-in-command, Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was very much part of the Nazi elite, and was a chief master-mind of Hitler’s ‘Final Soultion.’ He was a Nazi to the core, a Class-A dirtbag filled with murderous bile. His brutality to the people Czechoslovakia is legendary. Heydrich is the kind of evil that causes people who have seen it all to gasp.

Wonderful recreations of wartime Prague abound in this very visually delightful film.

The film follows Czech and Slovak resistance fighters in the ever-lovely city of Prague, beginning with two agents parachuting into the Czech forests with a dangerous and highly secret mission. These men, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, are to link up with the remnants of the resistance in order to carry out the assassination at the command of the Czech government in exile in England. Though their intelligence about the resistance is woefully out of date, they manage to link up despite some close calls with exposure. There is much tension and suspicion. The stress of living in hiding as an operative is made plainly evident. This is a gritty film.

Our operatives gain some local female help and blend into the city.

The ethical conflicts of an assassination are immediately thrust upon us – any assassination in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia, attempted or successful, would result in the roundup and execution of thousands of innocent civilians. So we are faced with an ethical dilemma in the film, and this dilemma causes sharp disagreements between resistance fighters. If you know that your action will result in the death of thousands, do you assassinate a man who will continue to kill thousands? This is a variation of the classic “Trolley Dilemma” in which you are posed with the option to kill one to save many. In this case its the reverse, can you kill one to save many, knowing many will die as a result. How many? Will the assassination save more than doing nothing?

For the truly ethical person, the plain answer is to kill Heydrich, an enemy combatant bent on great evil. Any guilt and culpability for Nazi reparations are solely and fully upon the Nazis themselves, not on those who killed the Nazi. There is a foolish notion that if you act and the one upon whom you act then harms others, you are to blame. Utter nonsense. Men are responsible for their own crimes, not other men’s crimes (Jeremiah 31:30), and people who are mere secondary agents are no agent at all. The right thing to do is to do the right thing, regardless of what other men will do upon their own volition. Vengeance killings are voluntary and fully under the control of the one ordering them, and upon him alone.

A glorious scene almost too lovely and dramatically lit. CGI in the 21st century has made anything possible. Restraint is needed to avoid melodramatic visuals that distract from a gritty tale of hardship and mission.

Enough ethical ravings. The film offers a great bit of insight into the difficult lives of the Czech and Slovak resistance. Its an ugly life of danger, there is no glory in such a life, there is little recognition. When the film is over, viewers ought to be a bit stunned. The mission, as any student of history knows, was a success. But the cost was sobering.

The young boy. The war’s toll is obvious upon his dull face. Poor kid plays a role he wishes he didn’t have to.

The film is produced with excellence. Shots of wartime Prague are certainly CGI but show fantastic period scenes. Truly amazing and sometimes well over the top in terms of dramatic lighting. Still, beautiful.  There was clearly an exceptional amount of attention to clothing and environment. The women are not typical Hollywood bimbo supermodels, but lovely in their own right and accessible characters for sure. The men are well-cast and not some collection of blockbuster names. I’d rather it have been original language instead of fake accents, but its an American film, and Americans are generally too touchy to handle subtitles. The trolley scenes and street views make this a film of grand production value. I really did enjoy it.

The moment of truth. Will everything go as planned?

Overall, it rates an A- from me. A good, suspense-filled story with action and drama, one rooted in history and fairly accurate, and one that honors the heroes it depicts rightly. The production value is stunning, just take a look at the abundance of screen grabs and judge for yourself.

Please look up the review  “A Tough Film I’m Glad I Saw” on the IMDB page, it is a very good perspective.

When the weapons arrive, I can totally relate to the ceremonial “smelling of the gun.” Gun people do stuff like that.
The trolley seems to remind us that life is trying to go on as usual in Prague.
A Colt Model 1903 hammerless pistol. I almost thought it was a Tokarev at first.
This truck would make a fine scale model. Posed on that cobbled street. Good attention to detail.
Skeptical at first, a helper before long. A wife shortly after.
More painterly drama
A dramatic shot.
Seemingly invincible odds.

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