‘Emperor’ Features Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones in a Thought-Provoking Film about War

Kurt Thurber


Emperor, starring Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones, is a period drama, based on true events, which tells the story of occupied Japan right after War World II. Larger-than-life General Douglas MacArthur (Jones), the Supreme Commander in the Pacific, is tasked with bringing stability and justice to the twice hydrogen-bombed Axis belligerent nation.  MacArthur assigns General Bonner Fellers (Fox), a Japan expert with a romantic attachment to the island, to determine the extent of the Emperor’s role in Japan’s belligerence.


The film  has its strong points.  Fox does a good job of presenting Fellers as a three-dimensional character to let the audience make their own decisions about his methods and flaws. The scenes of a bombed-out Japan—with Japanese families dressed in rags and living in hovels—is jarring when compared to Japan’s present situation as a First-World nation and hub of modern commerce and technology.



Credit Emperor for putting big questions front and center for the audience to ponder: What is the United States, in the role of victor, supposed to do as a nation-builder? Benevolence?  Revenge? Step away and let the power vacuum be filled by something unknown (in 1945 Japan, this is Stalin and communism). With the United States’ role in the change of leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan, these questions still haunt the world’s foremost democracy. The movie succeeds in demonstrating there are no easy answers as Fellers wrestles with consequences of bringing justice to the Emperor of Japan that may irrevocably destroy a 2,000-year-old culture.


The most disappointing part of Emperor is Tommy Lee Jones’ performance as MacArthur. While aside from Clint Eastwood, there are no other actors who can bring a grizzled red, white and blue to the screen like Jones, his performance is flat. While history shows MacArthur was a tough-as-nails, headstrong military leader with testosterone filled quips at the ready, Jones’ portrayal is more a caricature of Jones (think a subdued Sam Gerrard from The Fugitive) than a personification of MacArthur.  Perhaps, Mr. Jones was exhausted from his great historical performance in Lincoln as radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. It is a missed opportunity for Tommy Lee Jones to give an authentic interpretation to one of America’s most colorful 20th Century history-makers and perhaps rival the late George C. Scott’s performance in Patton.


While not quite as dramatic as bringing the demigod leader of a defeated nation to justice, the decision to watch Emperor, whether at the theater or on DVD, is one worth making.


Author Bio:

Kurt Thurber is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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