I’m the type of person whose interest is immediately piqued by a film entitled Anthropoid (2016). Surprisingly, despite the title, it’s not science fiction; it’s a dramatization of the operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich during World War II. (ANTHROPOID was the operation’s code name.) The film follows the exploits of agents Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) to parachute behind enemy lines into Czechoslovakia to assassinate the notorious Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” Heydrich has been crushing Czech resistance to Nazi occupation with ruthless efficiency, but Kubis and Gabcík are determined to put a stop to his evil reign. They meet surprising reluctance, however, from the remnants of the Czech network they’re counting on to assist them. These resistors have been living under the Nazis and fear the inevitable, murderous reprisals. Nonetheless, the two agents follow their orders, proceeding with their dangerous, high-stakes mission.
If the plot sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve seen Operation Daybreak, which coincidentally I saw ealier this year. Based on the same true story, and despite forty-one years separating them, Anthropoid and Operation Daybreak are essentially the same movie. There are altered details and subtle differences in emphasis, but the films share an almost identical tone of reverence and tragedy, telling the story with similar effectiveness. Ultimately, I think Anthropoid is the more successful film overall, with slightly more focus, polish, and realism than Daybreak. Dornan and Murphy supply charismatic heroism, and the new film’s web of intrigue seems more nuanced and detailed. It also makes more room for women in the resistance, played well by Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerová. I’m not sure I learned anything new from the new version, but it was interesting to compare the two films, particularly during their climactic action setpieces, which are so strikingly similar they may have been filmed in the same place by the same director. In the end, viewers could easily watch one or the other without needing both. Forced to pick one, I suspect Anthropoid is the more accessible and convincing watch.