Movie Review: The Man With the Iron Heart

Another take on the Heydrich assassination features action over accuracy

The Man With the Iron Heart (Smrtihlav)
Directed by Cédric Jimenez
With Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike, Jack O'Connell, Jack Reynor, Mia Wasikowska

The second of two new films about the assassination of acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, which took place 75 years ago, provides a lot more action but far fewer facts.

The Man With the Iron Heart, based on the novel HHhH by Laurent Binet, was filmed largely in Hungary, with just a little a little filming done in Prague and none of it on the original locations.

The Man With the Iron Heart starts on the day of the assassination, then goes into flashback. The first broad part of the film shows the rise of Heydrich (played by Jason Clarke) from a lowly naval officer with a bad reputation to SS leader Heinrich Himmler's right-hand man. The novel's title HhhH means Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich, which translates to Himmler's brain is called Heydrich.

Much of his rise is credited to his wife, Lina Heydrich (Rosamund Pike), who pushes the Nazi ideology on him when they first meet.

Heydrich's role as one of the architects of the Holocaust as well as the Night of the Long Knives becomes much more clear, providing justification to the assassins.

The timeline is a bit compressed for dramatic purposes, and some scenes of marital drama are thrown in. The Night of the Long Knives sequence provides some action to the early part of the film.

This background fills in some of the gaps in most previous tellings of this tale. The 2016 film Anthropoid, for example, only depicted Heydrich from a distance.

The film goes into flashback again to tell the story from the point of view of the paratroopers who were behind the assassination, Jan Kubiš (Jack O'Connell) and Jozef Gabčík (Jack Reynor). This part strays quite far from the facts. The two parachute into some snow-covered mountains, hotly pursued by German soldiers. They actually landed a few kilometers outside of Prague without much incident.

There is a subplot about the Three Kings of the Czech resistance, a group of three men who really did exist. They played no role in the assassination of Heydrich, but were responsible for other actions including two bombings in Berlin. Bringing in the SS hunt for them adds some action and drama to the plot. But the fates of the Three Kings were quite different than how it was depicted in the film.

Other standard elements from spy films such as the elaborate passing of notes and coded messages are also beefed up for drama. There is, of course, some romance thrown in, but the characters remain a bit too distant and underdeveloped.

The aftermath of the assassination is perhaps a bit more accurate, and people who have already seen Anthropoid will finally see the two versions of the same story agreeing on some historical points.

The Man With the Iron Heart is perhaps a better example of the war film genre, as it has more action and fighting, and some tense drama. But it fails a bit as history. One of the statements that Anthropoid made was that the business of war and secret missions was a lot less glamorous and less exciting than it is in spy films.

What will be very annoying to local audiences is the constant mispronounciation of Czech names and places. Václav, which people should at least know from former President Havel, comes out a Vak-lav, not Vats-lav. The town of Lidice gets a bit mangled, and some characters even struggle with Heydrich.

The film's locations also look nothing like the real ones. A place early on that one must assume is Prague Castle due to the presence of the Crown Jewels, has none of the familiar landmarks. A speech takes place from a balcony, which makes for good drama, but such a balcony overlooking the crowds does not exist at the Castle.

A church that plays a prominent role in the end of the film is of a completely different architectural design.

The streets of what is depicted as Prague are a bit on the grubby side, rundown and dilapidated. Since filming was in Hungary, there are no shots of the city skyline, any scenes of notable buildings or the quaint streets of the Castle area. The geography of the film is very confusing, as there in no way to relate one location to another.

The standout actors are Jason Clarke as Heydrich and Rosamund Pike as his wife. The Czech paratroopers and resistance members are unfortunately rather lackluster in comparison.

Pike brings a touch of Lady Macbeth to the role, pushing her husband high into the top Nazi ranks. She does so without a hint of evil though. She is simply urging her husband to be successful, according to her beliefs.

Pike is probably best known for Gone Girl, another role where she played a manipulative woman who looked innocent on the surface. She was also In Jack Reacher as a defense attorney trying to get to the bottom of a suspicious case.

Jason Clarke depicts an emotionally cold character, quick to get into personal conflict and relentless in going after his goals. His rather harsh facial expression and square jaw help him is his role. He has been is action films such as Terminator Genysis, White House Down and Public Enemies, and has a good role in Zero Dark Thirty as one of the top intelligence officers.

Director Cédric Jimenez delivers a fairly decent action film, but it would have been better if it stuck a bit closer to the facts. His previous films include The Connection, based on the famous French Connection drug case of the 1970s, and a thriller about a hacker who uncovers a terrorist plot called Aux yeux de tous.

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