Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Tommy Lee Jones has been dining out for so long on his likable screen persona, it's hard to remember the last time he made me feel an honest emotion ("In the Valley of Elah," I suppose). He's joined that club of old-timers - Jack Nicholson, Maggie Smith - whom audiences come to see chest-puff and wisecrack their way through mediocre material (including "Lincoln," where his "performance" consisted of knocking down a bunch of straw-man Southern racists).
He has especially little to do as Douglas MacArthur in the earnest and earthbound "Emperor", a high-toned but sleep-inducing bomb about the decision whether to try Hirohito for war crimes or allow him to retain his figurehead throne. MacArthur delegates the research into Hirohito's role in the attack on Pearl Harbor to a general with the wussy name of Bonner Fellers, played by Matthew Fox in a performance that runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. (Fox is so square-jawed he's virtually lock-jawed.) The story might make for an interesting magazine article, but there's not one thing about it that's cinematic. A subplot involving Fellers' war-torn romance with a Japanese schoolteacher feels truly thrown in, with little more to it than some "Oriental"-sounding pan-flute music and a few stolen kisses among the lotus petals.