Movie review: Matthew Fox in 'Emperor'

The Fresno BeeMarch 7, 2013 

There are plenty of movies in the feature film library vault having to do with every major -- and many minor -- battles of World War II.

One area that has not been closely scrutinized is life in Japan after the war ended when the United States faced the tough job of helping rebuild the country while trying to bring war criminals to justice. Both must be done while dealing with the commitment to honor and tradition among the Japanese people.

The premise for "Emperor" is whether Emperor Hirohito will be made to stand trial, which could lead to his execution.

Matthew Fox plays Gen. Bonner Fellers, an expert in Japanese life who is assigned to find the proof that would tie the emperor directly to the war. Fellers has deep concerns because if the emperor is found guilty, the Japanese people would revolt.

The screenplay by Vera Blasi and David Klass -- based on Shiro Okamoto's book -- gently weaves the military and political story with Fellers' very personal journey to find the woman he fell in love with when he lived in Japan before the war. It's a very nice way of boiling down the very complicated political, social and military issues into a very human form.

It's nice to see Fox returning to the tortured leading man role he played with great skill during his days on "Party of Five." Since then, he's tended to take roles overshadowed by special effects ("Speed Racer"), play characters who are off kilter ("Alex Cross") or get caught in a story so complicated even Sir Laurence Olivier would have been an afterthought to the plot ("Lost").

There's a strength and sweetness to this role that makes the character sympathetic, whether he's professing his love or interrogating a war criminal. The role shows off Fox's acting skills, and he rises to the occasion.

The same can't be said for Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It's not that Jones turns in a bad performance, but he's been given a character who is little more than a paper soldier. A little more attention to MacArthur would have given the movie's big ending more pop.

Part of the problem with Jones is the screenplay; the rest falls to director Paul Webber, who allows Jones to fall into the same gruff character he has played in so many movies.

The one-dimensional performance by Jones stands out when compared to the passionate and multi-layered work by Fox.


Movie review

"Emperor," rated PG-13 for language, violence. Stars Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune. Directed by Peter Webber. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Grade: B | Other movie reviews

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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