Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Man With The Iron Heart (2017)

The story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of The Final Solution, by Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, two British trained Czech paratroopers in Prague in 1942, is one that is absolutely right for the cinema, as has been proven by some ten films that have been produced since the event (including Anthropoid which, rather damagingly, beat this version to the screen in 2016). 

Laurent Binet's book entitled HHhH recounts these very same events but, it is a novel that is most emphatically not right for the cinema, as this film adaptation from Cédric Jimenez proves.

Having long since been interested in the assassination, I read Binet's book a couple of years ago and was blown away by its refusal to comply to standard literary conventions. HHhH (the title stems from a joke said to have been circulated through Nazi Germany during the war: Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich, or in English "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich") was part historical account, part novel and part journal of an author's experience of researching and writing a story. The book was essentially split into three points of view: the life of Heydrich and his rise to prominence in Hitler's Third Reich, the lives of Gabčík and Kubiš and their accomplices in the Czech resistance movement, and lastly the life of the author himself, Binet. It is, as I have said and as you may imagine, pretty unfilmable, and The Man With The Iron Heart utterly proves that. 

Jimenez realises how unfilmable Binet's POV - the journal of the perils and pitfalls of researching and writing up the events of 1942 - would be and excises it completely, to focus instead firstly on Heydrich and his rise to power, and on Kubiš and Gabčík's mission to assassinate him and, in doing so, he essentially removes the very thing that would make this stand out from all other tellings of the story. The Man With The Iron Heart effectively approaches the history it details in two parts: the first is essentially a biopic of Heydrich as played by Australian actor Jason Clarke, focusing on both his professional and personal life, the latter including his marriage to Lina, played by Rosamund Pike, whilst the latter half is given over to Jack O'Connell and Jack Reynor as Kubiš and Gabčík. 

Unfortunately, neither focus is wholly successful. Heydrich's POV may feel original in terms of previous adaptations of this story, but it stinks of the usual preoccupation that many other films have when focusing on the Nazis, namely the depiction of ruthless violence and tyranny shown immediately alongside scenes of sexual intercourse and titillation. As such, it reminded me of the 2007 film Eichmann which also left an unsavoury taste in the mouth. The subsequent focus on the Czech resistance and the mission itself is less original; essentially a retread of previous adaptations, including Anthropoid and Operation Daybreak (this film borrows the poetic licence of the latter when handling the fates of the courageous assassins), but lacking the depth of character those films enjoyed. 

Indeed, characterisation (or the lack of it) is a frustrating issue in the film overall: it's hard to understand what made Heydrich tick - to be honest there's an argument for whether we really want to see such a monster depicted in human terms anyway, but the way the film basically depicts him as a weird, humourless and lonely man (and borderline sexual deviant: almost the first thing we see of the character is him fucking a girl whilst facing a mirror) who meets Lina, a Nazi party member, who aids his rise to power, is sketchy at best - and Gabčík and Kubiš, along with the former's romance of Anna Novak (played by Mia Wasikowska), is something that leaves us feeling particularly shortchanged too, with no attempt made to convey the devil-may-care attitude these two courageous British-trained, Czech soldiers possessed when knowing full well that what they were undertaking was almost certainly a suicide mission - which was not a complaint that you could level at Binet's book. This flaw is especially galling when you consider the talents of the actors assembled for the film, who are all completely wasted I'm sorry to say. Still, Stephen Graham's depiction of Himmler is up there with Donald Pleasance's chilling recreation for The Eagle Has Landed

Overall, I'm aware that familiarity may well have marred my appreciation of this overall, but I cannot shake the sense that this would be a disappointment even to someone who has no prior knowledge of the events it depicts. I'd recommend you watch Anthropoid instead, and that you read HHhH. Yes, definitely read that I'd say.

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