Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roland Emmerich Proves His Talent with "Anonymous" - Review

Dozens of eyes dart to the end of a long hallway where a large red bell begins to resonate.  Its ring quickly overshadows the loud babble of teenage students, signaling the start of class.

With a rush, students drop their bookbags on the floor and hurl themselves into oversized desks.  In a quick move their bookbags are unzipped and a lone book is placed on their desk.  “Open to page 78!” instructs a wiry woman, the teacher, at the front of the classroom.

In unison, the students open their English books and find the page.  It reads: “Romeo and Juliet by Anonymous.” 

This is the reality that Roland Emmerich’s newest film Anonymous would have one believe.  More accurately it would have one believe that the beloved works of William Shakespeare were put to parchment by  Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.  Could it be that the Great Bard is the front for one of the biggest frauds of all time?

This theory isn’t exactly new, as Stratfordians and Oxfordians have been arguing over the authorship for ages.  However, Roland Emmerich and screenwriter John Orloff’s Anonymous is more than just an argument, it is an answer wrapped up in a Greek tragedy.

The film begins with the opening night of a theatrical production called Anonymous whose intention is to question the works of Shakespeare.  Before long, the production’s set transforms into a beautiful Tudor city of the Elizabethan era.  It is this framing that sets the film up as not only a wonderful piece of cinema, but as a grand tragedy of the likes of Shakespeare’s work.

Orloff’s script draws from numerous historical sources but is also incredibly inventive.  Anonymous isn’t out to present an accurate answer to one of the greatest mysteries of the literary world, but to entertain and illuminate.  Instead of a textbook replay of how history might have occurred, the film is infused with drama, thrills, lust, murder, politics, and incest.

This fantastic story can be confusing at times, as it jumps forward and backward in time in an attempt to flesh out the relationships of its characters.  Its depiction of Elizabethan London is unrivaled.  Emmerich has become a seasoned veteran of the special effects blockbuster over the past fifteen years, starting with 1996’s Independence Day

In Anonymous he makes incredible use of that technology to bring to life a vibrant and visually striking city full of rich detail and stunning costumery.  Emmerich’s depiction of the first productions of Shakespeare’s plays are exceptionally engaging, reawakening the idea of the theater as a communal experience.

Its hard to imagine that this film has been directed by the same Roland Emmerich of last year’s 2012 and of his previous films 10,000 B.C. and The Day After Tomorrow.  All of his films have been visually rich but lacking in dramatic tension and, well, subtlety.  For all the millions of on-screen deaths in 2012, never once did it conjure mourning for the utter destruction of all the life on earth.

Anonymous on the other hand tells the richly dramatic and subtle story of the Earl of Oxford, magnificently portrayed by veteran character actor Rhys Ifans.  His relationships with Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare, an uneducated and egotistical actor, are the biggest spectacles to be seen.  Each and every character is one worth investing in, making the twists and turns of the script all the more shocking and thought provoking.

Anonymous isn’t just an incredibly well crafted piece of historical fiction meant to raise questions and arouse suspicions.  It is evidence that Roland Emmerich is a far more talented director than his previous works would let on.  He has apparently discovered that drama doesn’t come from pure spectacle but from the simple interactions of humans with conflicting goals.  For as many times as he has destroyed humanity, he has proven to be most effective at destroying the name of William Shakespeare.

3 / 4 Reels


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