3 out of 5 Stars
Director: Peter Webber
Starring: Matthew Fox, Colin Moy, Tommy Lee Jones
Recommended to: History buffs, Tommy Lee Jones fans and those looking for a lightweight war drama.
Following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) was sent to Japan to, among many things, determine if Japan’s Emperor Hirohito should be charged, and tried as a war criminal. MacArthur turned to General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a man with a deep respect and understanding of Japanese culture because of his love for Aya, a Japanese exchange student he met while at college.
“Emperor” is director Peter Webber’s (“Girl with a Pearl Earring”) attempt at evoking the emotional resonance of a Terrence Malick film while staying within the framework of a traditional Hollywood drama. To Webber’s credit he’s done a good job of telling the story, but he’s failed to make it resonate. Part of Malick’s charm, which is also the reason why many people find his films to be difficult to understand, is that he doesn’t feel bound to a script. “A Thin Red Line,” Malick’s World War II masterpiece, is more about the experience of war than it is a historical document. “Emperor” doesn’t have that sort of freedom because it is more about a historic moment than an emotional response. I’m not familiar with Shiro Okamoto’s book “His Majesty’s Salvation” and don’t know enough about this particular aspect of World War II history to know what aspects of the film are more fiction than fact, but the romantic elements of the film simply feel fabricated. Is this because of the writing, the direction or Fox’s performance? A bit of each I would think. Because we know how the main storyline of “Emperor” plays out, for the film to be completely successful it would have needed to really offer insight, both as a historical document and as an examination of how unfulfilled love can have a lifelong influence, and ultimately it fails to do that. Perhaps Webber should have tried channeling Wong Kar-wai instead.
-Ryan Michael Painter