Czechmate

anth12017.6: Anthropoid (2016)

Anthropoid seems a strange title for a film -it must have seemed a nightmare for the marketing boys- but the title does make sense when you watch it. This is a tense, gripping, edge-of-your-seat World War II thriller based on the true story of a Czech resistance operation that may have had considerable bearing on the outcome of the war.

I’ll get this out of the way- this is a great WWII movie. Its got a brilliant script, a great cast and fine direction…. and it looks… brutally  beautiful?  I’m not sure what I’d call it exactly, but there is such a convincing sense of time and place. Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia is another world from anything we can experience today; it’s almost like reverse-science fiction, the film taking us to a world that once existed rather than a future-world yet to exist, but quite alien all the same. Art direction and photography is excellent (there is a wonderful filmic quality to the image, it isn’t soft-focus or sepia but it does give a wonderful sense of period, perhaps it’s the overall colour scheme and the lighting). I guess there may have been some fairly extensive cgi enhancements and effects but everything is handled so carefully nothing particularly stands out and distracts you, it all just serves the story. And its a great, inspiring story.

Its 1942, and Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) are Czech soldiers parachuted in on a secret mission to assassinate Nazi Reinhard Heydrich – Germany’s third highest-ranking commander and architect of the Final Solution; he’s a nasty piece of work and one of Hitler’s key men.The attempt to assassinate Heydrich and its aftermath leads to chilling reprisals. Its a study of bravery and dedication and ordinary people rising to take their place in historic events.

When I was young, references to WWII seemed to be everywhere; it was, after all fairly recent memory. As another fifty years have gone by now it’s clearly slipping further back, and I wonder how relevant the war might seem to young people now who don’t associate, say, Germany with that European war in the same was as I did playing wargames with my boyhood friends. Sometimes I watch and read about stuff like this and I think people were somehow different back then in that war, perhaps a whole generation who were different to what we are today. Are we weaker now? How would we measure up thrown into a world at war like that in 1939-1945?

I suppose if there was any criticism of the film, its that the  first half is fairly routine espionage thriller stuff, the film establishing the politics within the resistance network and the mechanisms of the surveillance and planning. But I think this deliberately slow pace is designed to catch viewers unaware, as at the midway point time finally runs out for the plotters and they have to take decisive action. The film clearly steps up a gear as events threaten to overwhelm the resistance and their courage and dedication to the operation is put to the test- some do better than we expect, others are found wanting, but they are only human, as opposed to the superhumans dominating our screens today.

What happens next is a brilliant exercise in edge-of-your-seat tension and a horrifying reminder of the brutality of war. The action set-pieces are easy to follow and edited very well indeed. No frenetic cuts and shakey-cam here. Its unnerving stuff.

Yeah, a great war movie. I don’t say that enough on this blog. We do need more great war movies.

 

 

One thought on “Czechmate

  1. I think overcoming that title must’ve been an obstacle for the film. It sounds like a sci-fi/horror (and considering the definition of anthropoid, that’s not unreasonable), so you’re scuppering yourself with a casual audience right there. I guess the mediocre US reviews didn’t help much either.

    Anyway, I shall now add it to the “to catch” list.

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