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Anthropoid – Review

5 May

In 1942, an assassination attempt on one of the Third Reich’s most despicable leaders, Reinhard Heydrich, was undertaken by a group of Czech agents working alongside operative in England. This mission was appropriately called Operation Anthropoid. The implications of this mission helped redefine the Allies’ actions in these stages of Word War II, but even with all that, this isn’t a story that I’ve seen told in a mainstream motion picture. There have been films that have told this story before, so please pardon my ignorance. Sean Ellis’ 2016 film, Anthropoid, is one of these films to tell the story of these often times forgotten Czech heroes. While this is a really solid film, there are some storytelling choices and pacing issues that hold it back from being a real war classic, but it’s certainly one that I’m really glad to have seen.

In 1941, Jozef Gabčik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), two Czechoslovakian agents, are dropped into Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. Their mission is to meet up with the underground resistance in Prague to ultimately assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe). They soon meet up with the head of the resistance, Uncle Hajsky (Toby Jones), and begin planning their mission. As time goes on, the two agents begin to immerse themselves in their homeland once again, but their time is soon cut short when it is revealed that Heydrich is being reassigned to another post in France. This forces Jozef and Jan to push their plans forward, but to great risk to themselves and the people of Czechoslovakia.

Movies about World War II are everywhere, so it’s important for film makers to work hard and make their film unique from all the rest. Is Anthropoid a gleaming example of a unique WWII drama? In a sense, yes, and in another sense, no. The major pitfalls of this film happen early on, which is a good thing, but I was really worried for a good portion of the story that nothing special would really come from what I was watching. The first half of Anthropoid has the job of setting up the true to life history of the story while also creating some dramatic fiction to get the viewer more invested in the characters. The problem with that is that the true story is interesting enough, and the embellishments that the film makers added in were distracting and ultimately added to nothing. This is where the core of my worries came because these useless plot points stretched on for way too long. What I’m really trying to say is that the set up wasn’t necessarily overlong, but it was clunky and unfocused. Not every movie needs a romantic relationship… Seriously.

Where Anthropoid really hits is in its second half. With their mission moved forward, the team are forced to make some really tough decisions, which leads to some really harrowing and suspenseful scenes with explosive payoffs that left me feeling exhausted. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s one of those kinds of movies. I felt like I needed to sleep until the next day once these credits started to roll. The tension in this movie is wound so tight that Hitchcock, himself, would have been proud. What helps with this is the authenticity that is clearly present throughout the entirety of this movie. Sean Ellis and his team worked really hard to recreate Prague in the 1940s, which I will get more into later. A lot of the actual locations were used in the shoots, and everything that couldn’t be filmed was meticulously recreated. This is what movies are all about, and this alone saves the movie from the rough start that plagues it.

Now, while the story has a rough start and picks up later one, the design of Anthropoid is on point for the its entirety. This is a great looking movie and that’s one of its main saviors. Like I said, there are sets that are meticulously recreated to be exact replicas of real life locations. The most impressive is a cathedral set where the climax of the film happens. It’s an enormous and very well crafted replica that looks exactly like the real thing. This film is also shot using mostly handheld cameras, but it never gets too out of control. There are movies that exist that use this style to make it seem more real, but they go overboard and move the camera so much you can’t even tell what’s going on. Ellis shows great restraint with the camera and knows exactly when to make it kinetic and when to slow the movements down.

Anthropoid is a solid World War II thriller that tells a story that I knew nothing about. It’s a very well acted and well shot film that’s full of tension, excitement, and visceral drama. The only thing holding it down is the first 35 minutes or so. It’s not that this part of the movie is terrible, but it felt like nothing was really amounting to anything. For anyone interested in the more clandestine side of World War II, I can easily recommend Anthropoid.

Final Grade: B+

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The Painted Veil – Review

7 Apr

Way back in 1925 a book was written called The Painted Veil, which told a story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. I’m not sure what the initial reaction was to the novel, but it spawned a plethora of adaptations dating back to 1934 and starring Greta Garbo. Another adaptation happened in 1957 with the film The Seventh Sin, an overlooked movie that cost MGM a great deal of money. The version I’m going to be talking about is the 2006 film starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The Painted Veil is one of those movies where I’m really glad to have watched it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with me for very long.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a well known and admired socialite who has no real interest in doing much of anything with her life, despite the pleas of her parents to find someone to marry and build a family with. Kitty is taken off guard one night when she meets a bacteriologist named Walter (Edward Norton) who asks her to marry him the next time they meet. She agrees to the marriage for the sole purpose of getting as far away as possible from her family. The couple move to Shanghai for Walter to continue his work, but Kitty meets Charlie (Liev Schreiber), a British government official, and they begin an affair. Walter quickly learns this and volunteers for a position to study Cholera in a rural village suffering from an epidemic. He brings Kitty along as a punishment and threatens to create a scandal if she doesn’t accompany him. It is in the middle of the sickness and the death that Kitty and Walter are forced to face mortality and their own selves to discover what is really important in their lives.

The first thing that pops out at me in The Painted Veil, and where I think the film is most successful, is in its production design. This is a gorgeous looking movie that’s beautifully shot and filled with excellent costumes and set designs. Being a period piece, it’s very important that the film has a sense of time and place, and this one knows and understands its time very well. This is why I really love well made period pieces, because they have the ability to transport you to a time that you’ve never seen before or never had the chance to experience. This also comes in handy when dealing with the plot point of a cholera epidemic. It hits the viewer hard and director John Curran pulled no punches in showing the horror that these people went through before a real cure was found.

You can clearly tell that the studio and makers of this film were really trying to push this movie as Oscar bait. Unfortunately, it never got to that point. I will say that they cast the right actors to get audiences’ attention, including mine. I think Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two powerhouse actors, and usually give their all to whatever movie they’re in. The same can be said about their performances in The Painted Veil. They have really good chemistry together, which makes it all the more upsetting when the hostility between their characters reach their boiling points. There’s also real fear behind the stone wall façades that the two characters have built up, which make them feel all the more human. There’s also some great performances by the film’s minor roles with Toby Jones and Anthony Wong.

It’s hard to pinpoint where this movie falters, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the full potential of this film wasn’t reached. It may be that this story and its archetypal characters have been seen a dozen times before since the original story was written way back in 1925. There’s lots of flash in the production design and the acting, but I knew exactly where the story was going to go before I even started watching the movie. I had a good idea of what was going to happen based on the plot summary and most things I predicted came true. That takes a lot of joy and fun out of watching a movie since it feels like I’ve seen it all before. There are certain plot points in movie that can be predictable and have the movie remain intact, but when I can guess the entire movie, beat by beat, it kind of makes me rethink how entertaining the movie actually was.

I’m glad that I watched The Painted Veil because it has some really great production design, very good acting, and an interesting enough hook to get me engaged in the story. I feel as if I don’t need to see it again, however, because at the end of it all it was a very predictable film. It doesn’t dare to be different from any other romantic period drama, and it actually seems to try really hard to stay within the parameters of a very exact formula. If anyone ever asks me if they should watch The Painted Veil, I’d say sure, but I’d never go out of my way to recommend it.

Final Grade: B