Based on a true story, General MacArthur – a wonderfully grisly and crinkled Tommy Lee Jones – is debating whether to charge Emperor Hirothio as a war criminal due to Pearl Harbour. He puts Brigadier General Bonner Fellers – a tired and greying Matthew Fox – in charge of establishing his involvement.
There’s a complicated backstory to Hirothio’s reign during the Second World War, with historians still debating today as to how guilty he really was. So it’s a shame that Director Peter Webber (Girl with the Pearl Earring) packs such a weighty and true story into a lean 98 minutes and spends half that running time having Fellers reminiscing about a former Japanese lover. The film’s flashbacks bring nothing, except a reinforcement of Fellers’ niceness and detract from what should be the meat of the story.
It could be argued that the Emperor is merely an omnipotent spectre in a script where Feller is the sole focus, but Fox is so utterly un-engaging that it just seems a waste. This is particularly annoying as Jones is so good. When the gnarled MacArthur finally meets with the recently humbled Hirothio, you want to soak up the clash of cultures. However we’re given very little time to do so before we’re brushed outside with Feller. Emperor is a potentially engaging historical drama transformed into a Titanic-lite tale of love and loss.