Movie Review: Emperor
In the waning years of any career, questionable choices are surely made. That does at least explain how Emperor has managed to pool Bruce Dern and James Cromwell among their cast. Their roles may be small, but star power alone was enough to cough this one up onto my radar. A directorial debut for long-serving film producer Mark Amin, Emperor looks to cash in on the hot topic Hollywood issue of slavery. 12 Years a Slave did it rather prominently, and Harriet, well, Harriet released to little fanfare and a collective shrugging of the shoulders. Amin hoped to avoid such a lukewarm reception, but struggles to give a competent film, rarely treading new ground on a very safe debut.
Dayo Okeniyi looks to make his break into leading man material, and there are definite signs that he’s up to the challenge. Nothing incredibly standout, but a safe pair of hands. A reliable individual who can lead films, although I’m not sure on the sort of role he’d be worthwhile in. His starring role as Shields Green isn’t the inspired content we should expect from a man looking to break into the competitive field of main protagonists, but it’ll hopefully put him in good stead later down the line. He certainly shows layers of confidence and competence, more than can be asked for with Emperor, a film that really doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself.
Some moments do feel inspired, but there’s an equal amount that are ultimately redundant. Amin doesn’t have the eye for direction needed with a film that looks to tread heavily covered ground. The chance encounters with vague faces of history scream of poor writing. Parting with a few words of wisdom and a wry smile for our leading man to muse on, Dern and Cromwell appear in an extremely limited capacity. I can’t say I was expecting anything more from them, but it’s a sad shame to see them wheeled out, given a couple lines to boost a scene, and then it’s back to the relatively confident nobodies that litter the screen.
Emperor isn’t horrible, recent days have put this one into perspective for me. But Amin’s work is far from spectacular, and there needs to be massive improvements in how he wishes to entertain and educate his audience. A solid leading performance and a few sparks of chemistry between him and whoever Amin wishes to throw Okeniyi in with. There’s potential here for so much more, but much like most of the content released this year, it comes up far too short.