|'Could arguably take place in a darker corner of the world of Verona Beach created by Baz Luhrmann twenty years ago'.|
Going straight to home media release in the UK, Anarchy: Ride Or Die has passed under the radar for many, especially in comparison to other Shakespearean films released in recent years. It's a shame, because, whilst not perfect, Almereyda's film offers plenty to like. Ed Harris as Cymbeline, the title role of the Shakespeare play upon which Anarchy is based - originally a king of Ancient Britain, transformed by Almereyda into a leatherclad drug kingpin - takes to the Bard's language superbly. The director assembles several Shakespearean alumni in support, such as John Leguizamo (Tybalt in 1996's Romeo + Juliet) and Ethan Hawke (Almereyda's own Prince of Denmark in his 2000 version of Hamlet), as well as rising talents such as Dakota Johnson and Anton Yelchin, all of whom do well.
The modernised setting also works, with the Britons becoming outlaws in conflict with the ruling Roman Empire, now the city's police department. Anarchy could arguably take place in a darker corner of the world of Verona Beach created by Baz Luhrmann twenty years ago; whilst Almereyda's vision doesn't quite fit so comfortably as Luhrmann's, the aesthetic choices are regularly pleasing with only one or two elements which noticeably jar.
Where Anarchy stumbles the most is in its final act, which in fairness is arguably the fault of Shakespeare as much as Almereyda. The story of Cymbeline feels almost like a collection of greatest hits from the Bard's earlier works, with plot elements reminiscent of Othello, King Lear and Twelfth Night amongst others. After masterfully juggling these for much of the narrative, the way in which the playwright concludes Cymbeline has notoriously provoked criticism throughout the years - George Bernard Shaw even chose to write an alternative "improved" final act in the 1930s, so dissatisfying did he find Shakespeare's original ending.
Almereyda doesn't follow in the footsteps of Shaw, but neither does he do anything to attempt to remedy any of the potential issues. By abridging Shakespeare's original play (the third longest in terms of word count after Hamlet and Coriolanus) to a running time of under one hundred minutes, the director succeeds in avoiding making his film laborious and inaccessible. However, Almereyda also creates some problems for himself towards the end of Anarchy, with a few of the character revelations and conclusion of the various narrative threads becoming just too hard to swallow. It's a disappointing denouement to what is, for the most part, an admirable and ambitious addition to the continuing Shakespearean cinematic canon.