Sean Ellis’s Metro Manila is one of the great films to have been released this side of the Millennium, and partly what made it so special was the director’s reluctance to appease an international market, never playing up to the British or American audiences and remaining wholly truthful to the culture being depicted. His latest venture Anthropoid, again taking place in a foreign city – this time in Prague – regrettably distances itself from such a notion, epitomised in the leading cast-members being Irish and British. It’s a small detail, but one that is emblematic of a film that carelessly deviates away from reality.
Set amidst the horrors of the Second World War, we witness the assassination attempt of high-ranking Nazi officer SS General Reinhard Heydrich, known as the ‘Butcher of Prague’, who becomes a target for two self-exiled soldiers Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy). Operation ‘Anthropoid’ is undoubtedly an ambitious one, as the duo hide out in an apartment organised by Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones), supportive, if somewhat frightened of their mission; for while admiring their courage, the repercussions could be devastating for the Czech people.
A common element that exists in films set during the war from the perspective of those being persecuted, is a patent sense of suspense, which enriches the viewers experience in this instance. Given we’re dealing with two protagonists hiding away from the Nazis, that intensity and constant reminder that they could be caught at any given opportunity lingers painfully throughout this picture. The film thrives off its remarkable narrative too, and Ellis has handled the events in a respectful way, never overt in its melodrama. It’s intriguing too to delve into the war from a Czech perspective, for more often than not we do so through the eyes of the English or the Germans – while there’s also been an outpour of French, Russian and Italian films across the past few decades that set their tale during this period.
Ellis hasn’t compromised on his own artistry however, with a distinctly resourceful, accomplished and well-crafted production, that certainly looks the part (he’s his own cinematographer). His approach is immersive – using what appears to be a shaky, handheld camera in certain sequences, and often presenting the characters with close-up shots, truly throwing the viewer right into the heart of the action and placing them within this world.
However, it takes a good long while before we reach the more engaging, compelling scenes, and the first half of the film does grow tedious in parts. Which, while expected given the characters themselves are waiting – in what appears to be an excruciatingly long time before the opportunity arises to conduct their mission – doesn’t make for truly enjoyable cinema. The final act is breathtaking and captivating, but it takes far too long to arrive.