Anthropoid': Truth gets in the way of fiction in latest Nazi tale

Josef Gabcik (Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Dornan) in 'Anthropoid'

This plot sounds like a lot of other Nazi war movies, but the forgotten footnote in history this movie is based on happens to be true. It’s surprising these events are not more well documented, but probably only World War II buffs will remember the assassination of “The Butcher of Prague.”

That was the less-than-flattering nickname given to SS General Reinhard Hydrick, third in line to the Nazi seat of power behind only Himmler and Hitler himself, and the de facto ruler of occupied Czechoslovakia. Over the years, there have been other movies either based on or taken directly from the events this movie documents, but none in recent memory.

Director and writer Sean Ellis got the green light for this adaptation largely on the strength and star power of his leads — Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, Irish actors who both give powerful yet subtle performances. They play exiled Czech soldiers who have been sent back to their native country to kill Hydrick, an almost certain suicide mission. But it’s a fitting end for the sadistic general who has been busy slaughtering thousands of men, women, and children, and in his spare time, as it is documented, busy dreaming up the blueprint for the Final Solution.

Josef Gabcik (Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Dornan) parachute into the woods near Prague and make their way to the city where they are met by the leader of the local resistance (played by Toby Jones). As part of their cover, they are also introduced to two women who will escort them around so they don’t attract attention. Maria (Charlotte Le Bon of “The Hundred Foot Journey”) and Czech actressAnna Geislerová also become love interests for them.

Much of the running time is taken up with plotting the actual mission, and it’s tedious, with not much action to speak of. With SS troopers on every street corner and a lot to lose if they fail, this should be a tense first act building to the assassination and the aftermath — but it’s not.

The fault lies with Ellis’s direction and his choice to let the story tell itself without embellishment or creative license. The result is somewhat subdued, which could have mitigated with stronger character development. But we never really learn much about anyone in the movie, except they hate Hitler. Josef and Jan are ciphers — young, fresh-face Nazi killers who want their country back, but beyond that it’s anyone’s guess. The women suffer the same slight as well.

Murphy, recently known for the BBC television series “Peaky Blinders,” may be less familiar to American audiences. But Dornan cannot hide from “Fifty Shades of Gray.” Yes, he’s that guy.

Some of his other work includes “The Fall,” a British mini-series where he plays a serial killer. Both it and “Peaky Blinders” are available for streaming.

Filmed in and around Prague using historical locations like the St. Charles Bridge and other sites that are accurate for the actual events, overall Ellis has crafted a nice, cohesive movie. And the last 30 minutes or so finally bring the emotion and scene-building that should have been present throughout the movie. But it’s not enough to have sent what is basically a niche film into wide release. So it has quickly made its way in and out of theaters.

All said, this is a great easy-chair movie, so look for it to pop up on pay-per-view or elsewhere on the cable spectrum. Brush up on your World War II facts and stock up on popcorn. This is coming to a television near you — soon.

‘Anthropoid,’ starring Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, directed by Sean Ellis, Rated R

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