"Emperor" fails to hook its audience

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By Becca Owsley

Rated PG-13 for violent content, brief strong language and smoking (historical).
Release date: Limited theater release March of 2013, DVD release August 13
Runtime: 105 minutes
Rating: Not as good as it could be


“Emperor” is set in Japan, after its surrender in World War II. Gen. Bonner Fellers is tasked by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to see if Japan’s Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal.

There are two things working in this movie’s favor.

  •  It captures the setting well. The costumes, setting and overall aesthetic transport viewers seamlessly to the 1940s.
  •  Tommy Lee Jones. If any one was born to play a general — any general — it’s him. This Oscar winner plays his role with authority and swagger. Unfortunately, his screen time is limited.

Overall, the film falters.

The fall begins with Matthew Fox, most recognized for his role on “Lost.”

He looks the part of a 1940s soldier but his performance is bland. He comes across either as emotionless or eerie, his attempts to show feelings seem forced.

Fox delivers his dialog awkwardly, as do others. It sounds as if he’s reciting from memory instead of acting.

Another problem is this film can’t figure out what it wants to be. 

Two storylines intertwine throughout. One is a romance between Fox and a Japanese exchange student he met in America. While he investigates Hirohito, he also tries to find her in the rubble of Japan.

The other is a legal war drama, looking for suspects and witnesses to testify for or against the emperor.

The two storylines do not mesh well. Each steals attention and interest from the other, ultimately diminishing both.  

Director Peter Webber (“Girl with a Pearl Earring”) should have made up his mind what kind of movie he wanted to present.

“Emperor” lost my interest quickly, even though I typically enjoy historical dramas. The genre faces a unique set of challenges right out of the gate and must hook audiences with solid acting and a strong, flowing story.

“Emperor” fails at both. It is proof a lovely aesthetic and set pieces cannot overcome subpar acting and a weak story thread.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270- 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com. For movie reviews visit her reporter page at www.facebook.com/pages/Becca-Owsley/96924584861.


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