Starring: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune
Directed by: Peter Webber (“Hannibal Rising”)
Written by: Vera Blasi (“Woman on Top”) and David Klass (“Walking Tall”)
Taking place after the Japanese surrender in World War II, “Emperor” tells the story of General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) who is assigned a task from General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) to investigate whether Japanese Emperor Hirohito will be tried as a war criminal for ordering of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With the Japanese uninterested to talk and Fellers’ past involvement with a Japanese girl complicating the situation, the truth might not be as easy to find.
Since the end of the wildly popular TV show “Lost,” Fox has done little to cement himself as a leading man in films. His performance in “Emperor” is often times wooden and uninspired. His line readings feel forced and unnatural. Other than one scene where he actually shows some emotional range, his ability to do this on a consistent basis is stifled throughout the film. It is pretty impressive that Jones is able to get away with giving the same exact performance in nearly every role he plays. It is hard to argue what he does isn’t the same look, inflection and attitude in every film. While he doesn’t have nearly as much screen time in the film as Fox, Jones is merely passable as MacArthur.
The investigation of war crimes unfolds in a way that is absent of tension. Even though it attempts to tells a part of history, the script fails to be interesting. It never feels like anything major is at stake. Screenwriters Vera Blasi and David Klass look to a weaker secondary story between Gen. Fellers and his Japanese love interest. Their relationship provides no emotional stock for the view and are achingly generic.
Even with a historic story that might be unknown to many people, “Emperor” is too dull to resonate on any level. Fox isn’t quite ready to take the reigns of a lead role and the film is too weighed down by a subpar romantic subplot. Perhaps there is no greater sign that a movie is doomed from the very beginning than when even the always-dependable Jones is overshadowed by his massive corncob pipe.