The film is set in World War II and the title refers to the code name of the London-based Czechoslovakian government-in-exile’s plan to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, otherwise known as the Butcher of Prague for the brutal way he used his power as head of the occupying Nazi force in the city. I tell you this because the reason for the operation being named after a species of monkey is never explained in the film. Maybe the real Heydrich looked a bit simian? In the film we don’t get that good a look at him.
Murphy (Josef) and Dornan (Jan) play two Czech partisans, who have escaped to London and are airlifted back into their native country to mastermind the operation. There they quickly link up with Toby Jones and his group of resistance workers to start laying their plans. The also set themselves up with local girlfriends (Geislerová and LeBon) as cover.
So we have the basis for a good war time thriller. It is however told in a very dreary and pedestrian way. For a start the tri-national cast, who are presumably supposed to be speaking Czech to each other, all deliver their lines in English with heavy accents, in what is now a very old fashioned manner. The film would perhaps have had a better chance of appealing to an international audience if they had just spoken standard English with the Czech actors dubbed into same, with perhaps a version in Czech with the English speakers dubbed for the arthouse and Eastern European audience.
That apart though the story telling itself is also old fashioned – all heavy handed patriotism and no moral or other conflict, focussing totally on the Czech heroes with the Germans as distant one dimensional figures. In the pedestrian first part of the film, which deals interminably and with no real sense of danger with the planning stage of the operation, we see little to nothing of the brutal reality of life under German occupation, which is after all the reason for the assassination, although after the event, as the Nazis try to find out who are the perpetrators of the assassination, we are treated, if that is the word, to a most graphic scene of torture, which is totally out of key with the film so far.
On the plus side the assassination itself has a modicum of tension and the film makers have shot the city of Prague in a washed out, almost sepia colour palette, which gives it an interesting sense of period. Of the performers Geislerová has a strong screen presence, which hints at interesting dimensions to her character but she disappears too early from the story for us to ever find out what they are. The actors overall do their best with underwritten characters, who have little emotional depth or development.
The story ends with an impressive but long drawn out and repetitive shoot out in a church, where Jan, Josef and a whole gang of other Czech partisans that we haven’t seen before manage to blow up a lot of extras in German uniform before dying a hero’s death themselves. It may all be historically accurate but, apart from the gruesomely revolting torture scene, it’s a bit of a dull film to watch.
Review by Carol Allen