Commentary
5:00 am
Thu April 4, 2013

Movie Review: Emperor

Emperor is a blown-opportunity movie, which purports to be about General Douglas MacArthur's decision whether to try Emperor Hirohito for war crimes in the wake of World War II.

And considering the parallels between 1945 and the present day, it's hard to see how it manages to avoid dealing with responsibilities of the civilian leaders at home for the atrocities committed by the boots on the ground in war time.

Credit rottentomatoes.com

But it pretty much does so, in large part by devoting a lot of time to a vapid love story between MacArthur's chief aide and a Japanese woman he knew before the war (and can't even find after it).

The disproportion between the momentous and the trivial reminds me of the old-style historical dramas, such as Tyrone Power digging the Suez Canal so he could marry Loretta Young.

But that isn't the only promising topic Emperor neglects.

Douglas MacArthur was one of the most self-contradictory and fascinating figures in modern history, combining-- or, at least, juxtaposing-- military genius, fanatic megalomania, patriotism and reckless adventuring with near-absurd theatricality, and near-lunatic ambition, such as to want war-- if necessary, nuclear war-- with China.

And yet, he was among the historic handful of men who actually won the hearts and minds of a defeated enemy, and his rule over Japan is one of the military-political-sociological miracles of all time.

Tommy Lee Jones must have thought that here was the role of his lifetime. Alas, the screenplay all but ignores the character of the historical MacArthur and give Jones little but a corncob pipe, a handful of arrogant lines, and a proudly arched back.

But the readers of Entertainment Weekly gave Emperor a B+, and the two people I talked to in the lobby loved it. Don't ask me why.