THE EMPEROR'S CLUB is a very traditional and completely satisfying film that is
something of a combination of DEAD POETS SOCIETY and MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS. By far
and away, the best and most enjoyable aspect of the production is Kevin Kline's
reserved and impeccable performance as William Hundert, a teacher of Western
Civilization and the assistant headmaster of St. Benedict's, an exclusive
boarding school. Kline, one of our most underappreciated actors, is the movie.
He owns it from the first scene to the last.
"A man's character is his fate," Hundert tells us in voice-over in the
introduction. On the first day of class in 1972, he lectures his students,
"What will your character be? How will history remember you?" The story
centers on the seventy-third annual competition for the Mr. Julius Caesar award.
It is in studying for and competing in the contest that the young men of St.
Benedict's have their mettle tested and their true characters revealed.
The front runner before the games begin has to be Martin Blythe (Paul Dano),
since his father was a previous winner. Also in the race are two hard working
scholars named Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta) and Louis Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg,
Decidedly not in the race is the obnoxious new kid, Sedgewick Bell (Emile
Hirsch), the son of the senior senator from West Virginia. Bell has absolutely
no plans whatsoever to study anything. His early exams come back with grades
just slightly above zero since he manages to get credit only for signing his
name correctly. Bell's brash independence, of course, endears him to his fellow
students and makes Hundert want to devote tremendous energy to discovering the
diamond beneath Bell's hard exterior.
You can probably guess most of the story's outline from this point on. Hundert
tells us fairly accurately that, "This is a story without surprises." Although
it does have a few, they aren't the reason to see THE EMPEROR'S CLUB. In
addition to witnessing Kline's sterling piece of acting, the movie also offers a
handsome tribute to the teaching profession. It reminded me of my brief times
teaching at Berkeley and at Duke. I was certainly no Hundert, but I was able to
experience some of his joys and frustrations. Don't be surprised if, when you
see it, you start thinking about the rewards and challenges of teaching young
and sometime rebellious minds.
THE EMPEROR'S CLUB runs 1:49. It is rated PG-13 for "some sexual content" but
would have been more appropriately rated PG. It would be acceptable for kids
around 9 and up.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes