Until around the halfway point, things aren’t looking too good for writer-director Sean Ellis’s WWII thriller. ‘Anthropoid’ tells the story of Czech resistance fighters Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcík (Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy) and their plot to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich – the third biggest of all the Top Nazi Dickheads – in central Prague.
Up to the attack itself, it’s all a bit wartime-by-numbers. There’s the bit where they gather round a table and someone insists it’s too risky; the bit where our plotters fall for the (disappointingly passive) women who shelter them; the bit where one of them has second thoughts about the whole thing. Some Disney films are less formulaic.
Thankfully, the film’s final third over-delivers massively. As the Nazis wreak brutal revenge for the attack – the history books suggest they slaughtered 5,000 Czechs in retaliation – the plotters hole up in an ornate cathedral, and when a ton of Hitler’s goons turn up, it’s clear the ensuing firefight is only going to go one way. Props to Ellis, then, for spinning the final 30 minutes into an intense, flinch-inducing climax, and for interspersing the action with just enough dark Nazi bastardry to amp up the emotional investment in our heavily outnumbered heroes. Factor in some jostly ‘Saving Private Ryan’-style camerawork and it’s enough to have you brushing imaginary chunks of shrapnel out of your beard.