The plot of "Dead Man Down" is endlessly convoluted, and to even begin to describe its intricacies would essentially rob the audience of the experience of watching the story unfold fresh.
So instead of relying on that crutch of summarizing events, it might be more interesting to discuss some tangential aspects of the film.
But before doing that, let's just say that for hard-core fans of the mean streets, gangsta, Lower Eastside of New York films, this one will likely not disappoint, one reason being its solid cast.
The ensemble is excellent, beginning with Noomi Rapace ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy). Again she is scarred, her soul and her face (she was in a car accident). It takes a courageous actor to appear physically flawed while allowing her character to grow in complexity and slowly become ever more compelling and even, in a strange way, beautiful.
There is one scene in which she stands in the window of her apartment and looks across to the other building and sees Colin Farrell. They stare at one another. She tentatively waves at him and after a heartbeat he waves back. And their connection grows. But this film is not a romance; it is something far more complex, and relentlessly so.
There is one line in the film, said in the opening setup, that while it appeals also seems, from the first frame to the last fragile moment, tentative: "Even the most damaged heart can be mended." It is said with hope and conviction by a gangsta who has just become a father and is cradling his new baby; however, the entire plot, that narrative arc, seems to ask whether that statement can possibly be true. And it is that initial affirmation, soon deconstructed into a question, that takes what could've been a mundane and procedural movie and makes it into something more.
Not spectacularly more, but then, again, know that this is being said to the fans of hard-edged films such as "Dead Man Down" and I'm likely an unreliable narrator when it comes to this type of film. I can find redeeming value where others may simply wonder, "What can he be thinking?"
"Emperor" focuses on an interesting and little-known moment in history — those months following the Japanese surrender when Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) was named the Supreme Commander of Japan. It was his mission, at the personal direction of FDR, to find and bring to justice the 30 top war criminals who were the architects of the decision to bomb Pearl Harbor and then waged a war of unrelenting atrocities.
The question asked by the U.S. government was this: was the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito — considered by his people to be a God — a signatory to the carnage of Pearl Harbor and to the prosecution of the war? Or was he simply unable to stop what was a juggernaut of militarism that gripped Japan, endorsed and encouraged by Japan's people and Prime Minister Tojo?
The soldier assigned by MacArthur to determine the Emperor's involvement was Gen. Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox). It was a critical investigation. The results would frame the future of Japan for generations to come. Should Emperor Hirohito be arrested and hanged for war crimes, the reaction of the Japanese people would have been explosive, anguished, and likely have resulted in a revolt that even the occupying army could not have contained.
This also is a film about the complexity of two cultures. And so "Emperor" grapples with not only culpability but with the chasm that exists between the Americans and those who, in the face of a devastating defeat, still cannot relinquish their commitments to honor and loyalty and to Hirohito.