Tommy Lee Jones is the reason to see Emperor. In fact, we wish he had been in the film more. Don't get us wrong, we adore Matthew Fox's work over the years, but the most fascinating part of the story of America and its occupying of Japan after World War II is the enormous responsibility given General MacArthur. The man who helped orchestrate victory in the Pacific Theater was sent to Japan to help rebuild it and more importantly, figure out what to do with that country's Emperor.
As shown in the Emperor trailer, Jones' MacArthur arrives in Tokyo to present them with some "American swagger." But then, his character takes a backseat to Fox's investigation into the Emperor trying to determine how much the regal leader knew about war crimes committed by his country. For one, did he order the attack on Pearl Harbor? MacArthur has entrusted Fox's General Fellers -- an expert in all things Japanese -- with taking merely days to reach a conclusion on determining the extent of the Emperor's knowledge of day to day war orders.
What Emperor does well is paint a picture of the complexities of the situation. America, and its allies, have bloodlust. They want the Emperor hung for Japan's war atrocities. Yet, did he even know what was going on or was he merely a figurehead to a blood thirsty regime who acted without his knowledge? The other issue is the powder keg that could erupt if the Emperor is removed. The entire country could dissolve into civil war. Fox knows this and continually pleads with MacArthur for more time. Only, there is none to be had.
Jones has had many career-defining moments over the years, most recently with his Oscar-nominated turn in Lincoln. But if there was a role he was born to play, it is that of General MacArthur. Teased in this Emperor clip, he is a supporting character though and much of the screen time goes to Fox.
Our Emperor review finds that although Fox's General has a huge responsibility and MacArthur is rightfully delegating, the film misses a huge opportunity. See, for a few weeks there in the aftermath of World War II... MacArthur was for all intents and purposes the Emperor of Japan. There's a duality of the film's title that is never addressed in any manner and that is a shame.
Movie Fanatic was so taken with Jones' performance as MacArthur that we have a small request. The most fascinating and cinematically compelling part of the General's story happens in the years that follow his Japan occupation.
It was when he led the U.S. into battle in Korea and was relieved of his duty. He had North Korea on the ropes and was not allowed to take his troops past the 39th Parallel, despite his extremely vocal protests. In hindsight, all this trouble we have with North Korea could have never happened if MacArthur had his way. With Jones in the role, that is a movie that could fully use the man's talents. Unfortunately, Emperor doesn't quite do that.