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dir Sean Ellis
scr Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin
prd Sean Ellis, Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon
with Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerova, Toby Jones, Harry Lloyd, Alena Mihulova, Marcin Dorocinski, Bill Milner, Sam Keeley, Jiri Simek, Mish Boyko
release US 12.Aug.16, UK 8.Sep.16
Gentleman spies: Dornan and Murphy
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
The true story of World War II's Operation Anthropoid is little known outside the Czech Republic, this bracingly urgent thriller has a remarkable attention to detail. This makes every moment so realistic that it's fully gripping. With its edgy camerawork, the film feels almost documentary-like, but it carries a huge emotional wallop.
In 1938, Western Europe's leaders gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler to stop him from starting a war. He of course started one anyway the next year. And in 1941, the British parachuted a team of Czech spies back into the country. Two of these men, Jan and Josef (Dornan and Murphy), were charged with assassinating Reinhard Heydrich, the third in Nazi command after Hitler and Himmler. The local resistance leader (Jones) provides uneasy help, while two young women (Le Bon and Geisterova) offer some cover as Jan and Josef's girlfriends. But the clock is ticking.
Heydrich was the original architect of the Final Solution, a man so brutal that he was known as the Butcher of Prague. So it's intriguing to be taken back to a point in time when the local resistance fighters were understandably nervous about killing him: surely Hitler would take horrific revenge. The clashing opinions and the build-up to the attack is tense and complex, and the film's final act is even more energetic, as it spins into a frantically violent confrontation.
All of the actors are excellent, even if they are performing in oddly accented English. Murphy and Dornan are prickly heroes, deeply likeable but earthy and honest. Their connections with Le Bon's and Geisterova's characters are remarkably powerful, mainly because they're never overplayed (thankfully, neither is their shift into real romantic leads). The entire cast is gifted and committed, with particularly excellent work from Toby Jones, as always. And it's refreshing that the characters with conflicted morality are never vilified.
As with Metro Manila, filmmaker Ellis uses natural rhythms of the time and place to direct the story. So the movie feels almost old-fashioned in its refusal to indulge in today's more over-the-top action chaos or obvious moral posturing. Instead, he presents these heroes as flawed people who are sometimes so frightened that they can't even hold a gun, and yet their tenacity and sense of duty changed the course of human history. The parallels with the world right now are bracingly obvious, and Ellis lets us find them without ever being pushy about it.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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