The thing about Emperor, a strictly inoffensive, by-the-book film about slave on the run Shields Green, is that it never seems to match its subject matter with competency.
One is left with a wanting feeling, especially given Green’s purported encounters with Frederick Douglass and John Brown. But perhaps that’s because Showtime series Good Lord Bird did it ten times better just mere months ago.
Ethan Hawke starred in that series as John Brown, and while Emperor is interesting and diverting, it never approaches greatness. James Cromwell is a great actor, and serves his purpose as Green, but he never reaches Hawke’s performance level.
Director-writer Mark Amin’s greatest weapon is his cast, including the wonderful Dayo Okeniyi as Green. The Nigeria-born actor had a great role in Jennifer Lopez show Shades Of Blue, but this starring turn shows his range.
With M.C. Gainey, Mykelti Williamson, Animal Kingdom’s Ben Robson in a villainous role, and Bruce Dern aboard, they’re all game. They just need a better script.
It’s a story that deserves to be told, but one that could have done with a bit more vigour.