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The Emperor's Club

The Emperor's Club

The Emperor's Club may seem like a pale imitation of The Dead Poet's Society or Goodbye Mr. Chips with Kevin Kline in for Robin Williams or Robert Donat as a dedicated Classic professor William Hundert.  But Michael Hoffman's film, while unoriginal, does have vivid insight into what bonds teachers and their students, who often display their own way of thinking.

This absorbing, if reiterating drama begins with a retired Hundert landing by helicopter at a former student's palatial estate who's honoring him with a dinner.  Most of the film then is a flashback 25 years to 1972 when that student, one Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) was taught by Hundert about the Greeks and mostly the Romans.

The rebellious Bell, left by a formidable West Virginia senator father (Harris Yulin), mocks Hundert's class and goofs off at the posh St. Benedict prep school, even skinny-dipping at a girls' school across the lake.  But, Hundert takes this behavior as a challenge, and soon guides Sedgewick into responding with more resignation toward academics.

However, there is a Mr. Julius Ceasar contest, a scholastic quiz show, and Hundert commits a surprising act so Sedgewick can win the grand prize at the expense of fellow, less outspoken student, Martin Blythe (Paul Franklin Dano, now on "The Sorpranos").

The Emperor's Club, based on Ethan Canini's short story "The Palace Thief," has genuine feeling into one's character as a teacher works to instill a code of honor into those being shaped.  Neil Tolkin's screenplay stands on tradition with some swagger as aided by a lush production that moves from Gothic styles to grand modern manses.  It works cogently, as the somewhat measured picture offers a lesson to be learned from ethics and naivety.

The spirited score of James Newton Howard (Signs) reaches a crescendo as The Emperor's Club finds value in the what Hundert takes from presiding over the Mr. Julius Caesar rematch.  There are principles that aren't often looked or queried over in this way in Hollywood and it works without being insistently sentimental.  Strong reflections and levity into private school life repeats tradition as Kline underlines the importance of how one has made himself a person that will affect many others.

The Emperor's Club

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