Charlotte Le Bon

Anthropoid

anthropoid

11/09/16

Based on the true story of the WWII Operation Anthropoid mission to assassinate Nazi third-in-command Reinhard Heydrich, this is a hard-hitting film, which offers very little respite from the bleakness it portrays. It’s unflinching, forcing its audience to confront the awful brutality of war, the vile atrocities we commit in the name of patriotism or fear. And it’s quite difficult to watch.

It’s 1942; Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) have been tasked  with assassinating the Nazi leader of the protectorate, both to reassert the legitimacy of the exiled Czechoslovakian government, and as retribution for his harsh rule. Heydrich (who was also in charge of the so-called Final Solution) was clearly a hateful man, and this film focuses firmly on the victims’ experience; the Nazis are portrayed as a terrifying mass, with nothing to differentiate between them; they are uniformly evil. And that’s fair enough, I think; that’s how they would have appeared. I don’t imagine the people whose countries they occupied cared much about individual German soldiers’ situations, nor how propaganda and forced-conscription would have swelled the Nazi ranks. This film belongs to Jan and Josef, and the courage they and their tiny band of resistance fighters showed in taking on such a mighty foe.

The first half is slow and meticulous, focusing on the minutiae of living secretly and planning. Their developing relationships with Maria (Charlotte le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová) are subtly told, and the sense of imminent threat is ever present.

Once the assassination attempt is under way, the pace picks up, and the tension is unbearable. Indeed, the final battle is a fast-paced, relentless shoot-out, a bloodbath of the most ugly kind. No punches are pulled here. We see bullets rip through flesh. We see people being tortured until they lose all sense of who they are. But, ultimately, this is a tale of hope. Yes, human beings do terrible things. We can’t deny it. But other, better human beings will always try to bring them down. And, sometimes, they will succeed.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Walk

MV5BNTY4MzA4Mzc5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDIzMzk5NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_

11/09/15

In 1974, tightrope walker Philippe Petit performed a stunt that defied belief. He strung a wire between the twin towers in New York (illegally) and walked backwards and forwards across it eight times while an entranced audience of passers-by watched in stunned amazement. The ‘Coup,’ as Petit called it, has of course already been the subject of a film, James Marsh’s riveting documentary, Man On Wire (2009), but Petit only had a couple of still photographers with him. So this is Robert Zemeckis’s attempt to reconstruct the event.

We open with Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) talking directly to camera. Gordon-Levitt is a charming performer (considerably more charming than Petit himself who was famously unfaithful to his long-suffering girlfriend, Annie, played here by Charlotte Le Bon the night after the Coup, a fact that the film makers choose to ignore). Indeed, the charm offensive may be what skewers the early sections of this, as a young Petit conceives his dream of walking between the towers (in a dentist’s waiting room, as it happens), enlists the help of circus stalwart, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) to teach him the secrets of wire walking – and mawkishly romances Annie, who, when we first meet her is a street performer, bashing out drippy ballads on an acoustic guitar. The tone here is too whimsical for what follows, too self consciously comic for comfort and at times it threatens to derail the film completely. Matters aren’t helped by one of the murkiest 3D prints I’ve ever seen, which sets the first half of the story in deep shadow.

The momentum is happily regained somewhat once Petit and his ramshackle bunch of accomplices actually set about trying to achieve their objective. This section is filmed like a heist movie, with the tension steadily rising as the team try to get everything in place for the walk.

The Coup itself is a hair raising, terrifying, vertigo-inducing nightmare. I sat there, desperately reminding myself that history has already assured us of the outcome of the exercise, but it was to no avail. I’m not particularly good with heights and watching Gordon-Levitt walk back and forth, kneel down and at one point lie down on that narrow steel cable must have taken several years off my life. If the rest of the film had been up to this standard, it would doubtless have been granted five stars much higher score.

As it is, that uncertain first half is hard to forgive, particularly when it’s coming from a director of Zemeckis’s stature. A warning though. If you genuinely suffer from vertigo, this really may not be the film for you.

3.9 stars

Philip Caveney