Two Czechoslovakian soldiers named Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) parachute into Bohemia in 1942 on a dangerous mission: They must assassinate SS officer Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe), leader of the Nazi forces controlling their country. The men are assigned two women named Marie Kovarnikova (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka Fafkova (Anna Geislerová) to pose as their lovers so as not to arouse suspicion in public, but they are soon overwhelmed by nervousness and fear over the importance of their assignment.
Who says you can’t learn something new at the movies? I’ve never heard of operation Anthropoid going into this or even Czechoslovakia’s (Czech Republic) role in WWII. As most historical dramas do, it does a good job setting up the time period with some light reading. After that, the film puts us right in the action with Kubis (Dornan) and Gabcik (Murphy) parachuting down. There’s a little mystery at first since we don’t quite know who they are, what they’re doing, or why they’re there. It was a tumultuous time as they did not know who to trust. The film built up to this as we learned more about their situation and the people around them.
This brings up one of the biggest problems of the film. It does a lot of building to things but until they happen, it could feel a little slow to the viewer. The pacing of the plot was rather inconsistent, having many peaks and valleys but with more valleys than peaks. The film spent most of its time leading up to Kubis and Gabcik’s mission. It broke this up by giving each of them love interests in Marie Kovarnikova (Le Bon) and Lenka Fafkova (Geislerová). They were not just any love interests as they stood up to the men every step of the way by not allowing themselves to be treated as inferior passengers. This was interesting with the chemistry the four had but the film didn’t go very far with this as it skips many moments in their relationships.
The other part of the plot was the Moravec family with whom Kubis and Gabcik lived with while they were planning for their mission. The mother (Alena Mihulova), the father (Pavel Reznicek), and their son At’a (Bill Milner) and countless others, most notably Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones), were committed to their cause and helped them in whatever way they could. So the other side of the buildup was the planning for their mission. The planning was very exciting to watch and full of tension because it was unclear whether or not they’d succeed or even if they would get caught. As the film progressed, both were equally possible. Even if they did succeed, it didn’t necessarily create a better result, however.
Because of all the planning and buildup, the first half of the film felt very slow but this changed drastically during the second half as we got to see the end result of their work. This led to two great sequences which were Kubis and Gabcik’s assassination attempt on Heydrich (Bothe) and a long standoff with Nazi soldiers in a church. Both were great to watch and very suspenseful, again because we didn’t know if they would succeed (at least for those without previous knowledge). The better sequence has to be the church standoff. What made it so exciting was how it was shot in such a realistic and practical way and the sound design, almost making you feel like you were there.
What was great here was the fact that these people may have been soldiers but they were also real people and the film gave us glimpses of this. Characters had their own inner conflicts in that they were scared of what they were about to do but some dealt with that better than others. Once faced with adversity, characters reacted differently as well. While this was a war film, it was also about the relationship between Kubis and Gabcik. They were great to watch together but the time jump also took away from their relationship. The acting was good here but the pacing never gave us the opportunity to really get invested in the characters.
Overall, this was a decent, weirdly paced historical drama with some great sequences but is slow in other places.