Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big  Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

TIFF Review: Tommy Lee Jones Shines In Otherwise Serviceable, Flawed 'Emperor'

The Playlist By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist September 15, 2012 at 8:18AM

"We must be seen as liberators, not conquerors," Tommy Lee Jones' crusty General MacArthur says in the opening moments of "Emperor," and that line of dialogue is about as thematically rich as the film gets. A modestly budgeted, respectfully executed post-WWII drama, the film is also entirely edgeless, and aside from a couple of swear words is ready to be shown in classrooms and on the History Channel in endless repeats. As a big-screen outing, it's a very minor war film, that traps one actor in a miscalculated character and doesn't give us enough of another, who is clearly the best thing in the picture overall.
1
Emperor

"We must be seen as liberators, not conquerors," Tommy Lee Jones' crusty General MacArthur says in the opening moments of "Emperor," and that line of dialogue is about as thematically rich as the film gets. A modestly budgeted, respectfully executed post-WWII drama, the film is also entirely edgeless, and aside from a couple of swear words is ready to be shown in classrooms and on the History Channel in endless repeats. As a big-screen outing, it's a very minor war film, that traps one actor in a miscalculated character and doesn't give us enough of another, who is clearly the best thing in the picture overall.

Of the former, we're talking about Matthew Fox, who nabs himself a considerable post-"Lost" lead role but isn't given the best material to work with. He plays General Bonner Fellers, who is tasked by MacArthur to investigate whether or not the U.S. government should arrest and prosecute Japan's Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. It's a helluva task, and Bonner is put under the gun, given only ten days to do the legwork to find evidence to implicate or exonerate the Emperor. So he does what anyone else in this situation, where the fate of a nation and the balance of peace is on the line, would do -- with the aide of his driver, he uses this opportunity to find out what happened to the Japanese woman he fell in love with before the war.

While the script from David Klass and Vera Blasi attempts to honor the dichotomy and complexity of Japanese culture -- how guiding principles influence both how things appear, and how they really are -- it's too bad the one Japanese character who could theoretically best represent that is so underserved. Eriko Hatsuno plays Aya, a young woman that Bonner met at college, who described herself to him as being out of step with her family for being too outspoken. Unfortunately, we never get to see that quality as Aya gets little dialogue, and spends most of the picture blushing, not speaking to Bonner and theatrically reacting and swooning to the various bumps in the road their relationship weathers.

Emperor

These flashback sequences, which essentially serve half the narrative of the already slim 90-some-odd minute movie, tend to grind the picture to a halt. And moreover, they cut short the much more interesting story going on with Bonner's actual task at hand. Navigating layers of military and political figures to try and find out who made the key decisions to enter World War II, the movie flirts with delving into the fascinating loyalties, betrayals and behind the scenes manuvering that led to Pearl Harbor and more. But, for better or worse, "Emperor" simply isn't that movie, so all of that potentially weighty and rich material is shorthanded so we can get back to finding out why Aya left the United States without telling Bonner, and didn't return any of his letters. 

This misguided subplot -- presumably tacked on in a bid to court a female audience, in addition to underscoring Bonner's appreciation of Japan with all the nuance of Hallmark card -- means that director Peter Webber is forced to leave Jones behind in a supporting role. And it's a shame because the actor delivers a performance that deserves a much better movie than the one he's in. Every moment he's on screen, he enlivens the overly sober picture with a raw humor that is infectious, finding the balance between MacArthur's charisma and taciturnity. Jones is clearly having a ball playing the outsized personality, and he brings some spirit to the proceedings, but his presence is very limited.

To the filmmakers' credit, even if you know history (and thus know how this one ends), "Emperor" does do a good job of building some decent tension around MacArthur's final decision. And while giving Bonner an arch rival within the military who is wary of his being a "Jap lover" and who aims to bring him down in a plot strand that goes nowhere, is a misfire, the procedural elements are efficient and compelling. The movie is never without forward momentum, it's just too bad when just when it's ready to go to interesting places, we jump back to Bonner and Aya's pedestrian romance.

All told, "Emperor" delivers a perfectly servicable wartime movie, with its intentions in the right place. At the same time its harmlessness and adherence to a formulaic storytelling style means the flim has no voice of its own and at its worst can feel like the cinematic equivalent of making sure you get enough fiber in your diet. But Tommy Lee Jones at least does make the endeavor worthwhile, pointing toward the better film that could have been made, instead of the one we got. [C]

This article is related to: TIFF, Emperor, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates