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Non-Review Review: Anthropoid

“Concentrate on the details.”

The phrase is repeated in Anthropoid, and it speaks to the aesthetic of Sean Ellis’ tense Second World War assassination thriller. Ellis is very much fascinated with the details. This is reflected in the standard clandestine war movie fare; the reliance on maps and the maintaining of schedules, the decoding of messages and the construction of weapons. However, it is also reflected in Ellis’ directorial choices, with an emphasis on tight claustrophobic shots and meticulous care to ensure what the audience can or cannot see at any given moment.

Wet work.

Wet work.

The result is an engaging entry in the subgenre, a familiar story elevated by the craft on display. Ellis very skilfully and successfully ramps up the tension over the film’s two-hour runtime, mainly by keeping in complete control of the frame. Anthropoid is distinguished from other undercover war movies through the sheer scale of paranoia and dread that Ellis manages to generate, leading to a spectacular (and sustained) pay-off in the film’s third act. As its protagonists argue, the details are key.

There a few minor problems. Ellis is over-reliant on shaky camera work to keep the audience off-balance, a technique that is occasionally disorienting in a literal rather than a figurative sense. There are also moments when Anthropoid drifts away from its gritty grounding into easy visual metaphors and stock war movie tropes; crushed symbols of innocence trampled underfoot and a soaring triumphant score over silent scenes of carnage. However, these are the exception rather than the rule. As long as Anthropoid focuses on the details, it never loses track of itself.

Driving ambition.

Driving ambition.

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