Roland Emmerich is a filmmaker known for destroying things. Whether it is the White House in Independence Day or New York City in Godzilla, any semblance of historical accuracy in The Patriot and 10,000 B.C., or the world itself in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, the man likes to destroy things. Well now he has taken to an attempted destruction of the good name of one the most well renowned writers to ever exist. Now granted, all those silly literary conspiracy theories that once claimed Shakespeare to be a pseudonym at best and an imposter at worst, have gone the way of the dodo bird and the sensible Republican, but still, here we are staring into the audacious gullet of Herr Emmerich's Anonymous.
I must admit though, the movie isn't half bad. In fact, it is kind of (make sure you read kind of) fun, even amidst it's quite silly pretentions. Now most of this somewhat surprising fun comes not from the directorial determination of Emmerich, nor from the director's innate destructive nature, but rather from the central performance of Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and according to the director, the actual author of Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Henry V, Richard III and so on and so on. Ifans' performance, along with Vanessa Redgrave's as a seemingly stark raving mad Queen Elizabeth I, are surely the highlights of a film in desperate need of highlights. Yes, I did say it isn't half bad, but on the other hand, it isn't really half good either.
Emmerich shows the real William Shakespeare as a bumbling, semi-literate ham actor who signs his name to Lord Oxford's work (in Elizabethan England, nobility did not do anything so low class as write plays and poetry) for the glory and money that come with the signature. Contemporaries Ben Jonson and Kip Marlowe (both having been named as the real Shakespeare in other conspiracy theories) fare not much better here. Johnson, though shown as a coward, at least gets a bit of nobility thrown his way in the end; Marlowe is mere fodder for political backstabbings. But still, the film does have its rather fun moments - Ifans as tortured poet, the great Dame Redgrave doing what she does best, Emmerich's sly way of designing an insular world of dread and doom.
Far from a great film, and inducive to snoring (yes, I would have complained about the sleeping man several rows behind me if I was actually enjoying the film), Anonymous may have a few highlights sprinkled here or there, but even these moments cannot save such a silly, typically Emmerichesque film from disaster. [11/11/11]