A young English boy is separated from his parents and struggles to
survive on his own when the Japanese invade Shanghai during WWII.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tom Stoppard
Starring Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson,
Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano, Leslie Phillips, Masatô Ibu,
Ben Stiller, Peter Gale
Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard
Oscar Nominations - Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction,
Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing,
Best Original Score (John Williams)
Empire of the Sun is a film that is beautifully crafted but really poorly written. Spielberg does his best with a shoddy screenplay that has virtually no driving force, no semblance of plot, or any real resolution. Essentially, it's a film that follows young Jamie Graham (Christian Bale) as he wanders from place to place and grows increasingly pessimistic about the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Apart from him, the characters are barely developed enough to care about them. There's a reason this film is never mentioned during a discussion about Spielberg's best films, even though it was nominated for six Oscars and introduced the world to Christian Bale.
This film shows its audience the full scope of the Japanese invasion of China during WWII, but manages to sidestep any of the real horrifying acts of war in order to secure a PG rating. In some respects, it ignores a great deal of history. I do think that Bale delivered a solid performance at such a young age. You can tell that this kid is going to grow up to be somebody. He's our constant throughout the film, and his journey from a bright young child to a hollowed out, war-torn young man is heartbreaking. I just don't think it needed nearly three hours to be told. The pace is Empire of the Sun's biggest problem. It's a two and a half hour film that feels like a three and a half hour film.
I think that if Spielberg had written the script himself, this would've been astounding. The screenplay lays the foundation on which the movie is built and if you have a boring screenplay, you're going to end up with a boring movie. I didn't really buy any of the supporting cast's performances. Even John Malkovich seemed to be phoning it in, alongside Ben Stiller for some reason. Empire of the Sun is too ambitious for its own good, constantly trying to be a humanizing war film but lacking enough substance to accomplish it. Personally, I wouldn't want to sit through it again.