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'Anonymous': What the Critics Are Saying

Anonymous
Columbia TriStar Marketing Group
"Anonymous"

Film reviewers were mixed on director Roland Emmerich's most recent effort, with one writing, "Anonymous is some crazy shit."

Director Roland Emmerich returns to theaters with his latest feature, Anonymous, which explores the theory that playwright William Shakespeare didn't actually write his well-known plays. Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and David Thewlis, the John Orloff-penned film from Sony opens wide in U.S. theaters on Friday.

The two-hour feature had critics giving mixed reviews, with a few commenting on Emmerich's storytelling and pacing of the British movie. On Thursday evening, Anonymous held a 43 percent rating.

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The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt said that Anonymous portrays Shakespeare "as an illiterate buffon, barely smart enough to fool Elizabeth's London into thinking he actually wrote all those plays and sonnets." But Honeycutt noted that the movie "is easily director Roland Emmerich's best film. Instead of blowing up the world or engaging in other sorts of mass destruction, he actually steers a coherent path through a complex bit of Tudor history while establishing a highly credible atmosphere of paranoia and intrigue."

The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey held a similar sentiment, writing that the Emmerich film "is an ambitiously biting (gnawing?) literary whodunit turning on the Shakespeare question. As in, who really wrote all those seminal plays and sonnets ... That might sound like costume drama taken to deadly boring academic extremes. But surprisingly, in director Roland Emmerich's usually effects-heavy hands, we have something closer to a fanciful commedia dell'arte."

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Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said, "Emmerich piles on more conspiracy theories than Oliver Stone" before concluding, "Anonymous is some crazy shit."

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern had issues with Anonymous, saying, "A bigger problem with Anonymous is its opacity. The nonsensical notion of Edward's authorship is hardly more than a subplot. ... Most of the movie is devoted to the Essex Rebellion against the queen, and the action hops back and forth in time so befuddlingly, with the same set of characters played by different actors, that I defy anyone who isn't a scholar of the period to understand what's going on."

Morgenstern concludes, "In a movie that rings false at every turn, Ms. Redgrave's Elizabeth is truly and infallibly regal."

Like his colleague, The Boston Globe's Welsey Morris wasn't sold on the film. "Anonymous is about 15 movies, at least 11 of which we’ve seen before, several of which I haven’t even mentioned. The moviemaking is proficient, if unremarkable," he writes. "I like the idea of an Elizabethan action movie apparently more than I enjoy watching one."