The 'Shakespeare as fraud' concept of Anonymous almost makes sense - until director Roland Emmerich completely misfires with its final act....
Sony / 130 Minutes / 2011 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: February 7, 2011
In its review of Anonymous, The New York Times referred to it as being 'beyond useless" as a historical document. Seeing as the thing is the work of Independence Day and 10,000 B.C., this comes as little surprise, but upon actually assessing the film on this beautiful Blu-ray Disc edition, its limitations as anything more than dramatic trifling with extraordinary production design becomes more and more clear with each passing minute.
In fact, it isn't until Anonymous screeches into its final moments that its awfulness truly begins to sink in. Director Roland Emmerich has the ability to keep his plates spinning as a filmmaking showman - if anything can be said about his output as a moviemaker, it's that he knows how to deliver a set-piece. The issue with these show-stoppers, though, is that the nanosecond one starts to think about them or analyze them in anything outside a buttered-popcorn megaplex mindset, their legitimacy and impact completely fall apart.
This goes for Anonymous, too, even though its dusty premise is deliciously absurd. Through flashbacks and even deeper flashbacks, thanks to Derek Jacobi's opening monologue, we're brought heartily into the conspiracy that William Shakespeare - a mere commoner - couldn't possibly have written the works he did. The case is made that the shifty Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) was most likely responsible for Shakespeare's timeless tales, and Anonymous attempts to 'prove' this by illuminating the political and high-society struggles at the time that would make de Vere's ownership of Shakespeare's output a believable reality.
Not being a Shakespeare scholar by any stretch, there's no way I can critique Emmerich's thesis in Anonymous as being either loony or far-fetched yet possible, but Emmerich knows that in the land of big-budget Hollywood, one doesn't need to back up any facts or hypotheses as long as the drama at hand stays intense. He throws starpower in the mix - Joely Richardson and real-life mom Vanessa Redgrave play Queen Elizabeth at different ages - as well as moody music and elaborate sets, but once Anonymous' insanely unbelievable last reel starts up, it's hard not to whisper "Bullshit..." at the screen.