Emperor (2 stars)


Plodding military drama starring Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones

'I don’t need a history lesson', says Matthew Fox’s earnest General Bonner Fellers at one point during this plodding but fitfully engaging military drama. Inescapably though, a history lesson is what the film most often feels like. Despite telling a compelling story and even appropriating some film noir style, British director Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) fails to bring historic moments to life at a character level.

The subject is the American army’s tension-filled management of bomb-devastated Japan in August 1945, in the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima and VJ Day. General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) states his mission as 'rebuilding Japan', but tasks Fellers with the delicate job of investigating Emperor Hirohito – a man held by the Japanese to be a god in human form – and specifically discovering his part in the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Fellers’ attempts to piece together a picture of what happened are increasingly thwarted by the Japanese army’s silent allegiance and the Emperor’s inaccessibility.

Jones is clearly on Best Supporting Actor duty here, his swaggering MacArthur sporadically kicking life into the film. But the part lacks substance, and for all Jones’s grandstanding he is constricted in the role, bringing none of the nuance he has shown in recent, better films (Lincoln, No Country for Old Men). This leaves the burden of character to fall on Fox, an actor from the Richard Gere school of blinky emoting. He does his best, but is hampered by an unconvincing romance flashback story that only detracts from the more compelling mystery plot. Webber brings the politics and intrigue to the fore in a gripping final act, but the overall impression is that a fascinating story from history has been lost in the telling.

Limited release from Fri 4 Oct.

'Emperor' Trailer


  • 2 stars
  • 2012
  • US / Japan
  • 1h 45min
  • Directed by: Peter Webber
  • Cast: Matthew Fox, Colin Moy, Tommy Lee Jones
  • UK release: 4 October 2013

Jones plays General MacArthur in this story based on the US Army's management of Japan after the Japanese surrender in World War II, focusing on the investigation of Emperor Hirohito. An unconvincing romance detracts from the compelling elements of politics and intrigue in this plodding but fitfully engaging drama.