Do we call Anthropoid a thriller? Sean Ellis' earnest, day-ruining WWII bullet-a-thon is rooted in fact but comes on like pulp fiction in its first reels, hitting secret-mission story beats old enough to have served in the big war. As freedom fighters Josef (Jamie Dornan) and Jan (Cillian Murphy) skulk about 1942 Prague, cooking up a plan to assassinate the powerful Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, they face the usual suspense-building Hollywood silliness.
Outside a tense standoff in an early scene, after the boys have parachuted into a Czech forest, Anthropoid's first 45 minutes play like by-the-book PG-13 spy stuff. The assassination attempt comes much too early for you to feel good about it — both in the boys' timeline and in the movie's running time. Ellis and editor Richard Mettler have shaped a mean, cutting sequence, its excitement quickly turning bitter as the bullets fly into a busy city street. The subsequent chase is harrowing, entirely at odds with the Hollywood rules the film seemed to be playing by. The Nazis retaliate, of course, hunting Josef and Jan and five other resistance fighters who have parachuted into Prague.
It's all sickeningly accomplished, its incidents so tense and audacious that you might not have the headspace to wonder until afterwards, “Hey, wait, what was the point in grinding us through so many terrifying minutes of that?” The movie itself throws up its hands about what it all means — a title card just before the end credits announces that the Nazis killed 5,000 more Czechs in retaliation for Jan and Josef's plot.