We’ve all had that one kid in some class or another who thought that by using large words and elongating their sentences as long as possible, that they were smarter than all the other kids. Now imagine that kid getting to make his own movie about one of the most universally adored artists ever to walk the planet. You now understand my annoyance with Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous”.
Emmerich is a bit of a symbol of everything I hate about Hollywood. The maker of “Godzilla”, “The Day After Tomorrow”, and “2012”, he’s an unrelenting purveyor of destruction, death and noise; with obscenely high box-office receipts to boot. So his suitability for “Anonymous”‘ subject matter is certainly up for debate — a tangled web of political intrigue, relationships, creative disputes and family feuds. It’s all centered around the Earl of Oxford, who to shift public opinion, decides to release several plays to make a large splash. Hiding a tremendous talent for writing, he uses a middle-man as a public facade. This fraud’s name? William Shakespeare.
If there is one major achievement to the credit of “Anonymous”, it’s the dynamic digital re-creation of 16th-century-era England. Done with the seamless blending of practical stages and digital effects, it’s as vivid and textured as any digitally-created landscape. The fact that it was done on the film’s reputed $30 million budget makes it all the more impressive.
Rhys Ifans is the Earl of Oxford and lead character — and he’s something of a blank slate throughout the film — never really readable for the first two-thirds of the film, which make his sudden outbursts of emotion in the latter 40 minutes all the more baffling. He’s servicable. Further roles include Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth I, never escaping the shadow of her peers’ Cate Blanchett & Judi Dench’s wonderful work as the same character. David Thewlis is charming and persuasive as William Cecil, the Queen’s advisor.
“Band of Brothers” scribe John Orloff is credited as the scribe. Never in this film are the believable, richly human interactions of that miniseries displayed. “Anonymous” has faced a lot of venom from historians disputing the film’s veracity, which makes me wonder — will anyone actually take this film as fact? Doubtful. Rather, what I think should be analyzed is how such a potentially intriguing concept was conveyed in such a dry, listless fashion. Perhaps the greatest fault I can find against “Anonymous” is that — at face value — it’s a film about relationships, about how different groups and alliances tangle. But in all his career, one thing Emmerich has never done is convincingly develop a genuine, authentic character. Without this very basic skill, character-driven films fall apart. “Anonymous” is dead on arrival. D+