*DISCLAIMER: This critic has not seen Dead Poet’s Society, and though numerous comparisons have been made between the two movies, this critique of The Emperor’s Club must stand outside the shadow of the aforementioned film.
In The Emperor’s Club, Mr. Hundert (Kevin Kline) is a respected teacher of Greek and Roman classical history at St. Benedictus school for boys. He tries to teach academics, but most importantly, he strives to instill discipline and integrity.
Thus the premise is laid for this well-made and inventive film. About 70% of the film takes place in 1976 while the final portion is set in the present. This film strikes a common chord for every individual, begging the questions: what is ethical behavior and when is unethical behavior acceptable?
Mr. Hundert’s class this year is a common group of rambunctious teenage boys. He goes through his usual motions of trying to drive morality and academic integrity into every student’s head. But this year there is one catch: the new student Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch).
The movie follows Hundert’s struggle with this challenging, rebellious student. The movie then jumps into Sedgewick’s adult life to show his current status. Did Hundert reach this student or did he fail to give him a deserved education in morality?
Kline is well cast as the teacher all of us had who seemed to take their job a little too seriously, even though it was all for our benefit. We often forget what a tremendous actor Kline truly is, as he is usually cast in those quirky supporting roles (The Anniversary Party, for instance). But he shines in this film and shows he can play a strong lead character when need be. And he does it well.
The young Hirsch plays the all-too-common new student syndrome well and with a small bit of inventiveness. However, the supporting characters seem a little awkwardly cast as his fellow students with not much confidence on screen. Perhaps they were overplaying all of our low self-esteem teenage years.
The adult actors playing the aged students are also a bit clich