When I first heard of the plot
of The Emperor's Club, my thoughts were along the lines of "Oh, great, a Dead
Poet's Society rip-off." You
know the type of movie I mean. The type where a teacher goes head-to-head
with a group of students and slowly wins them over and they all overcome
life's obstacles with the lessons learned from each other. I couldn't
have been more wrong. While The Emperor's Club does contains some elements
of that type of film, it tells a story in a much more realistic fashion.
Starring: Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, and
Kevin Kline plays the role of William Hundert, a Classics professor who
teaches Greek and Roman history at St. Benedictus, a private school for
boys with rich and influential parents. Trouble arrives in the form of
Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), the son of a senator. He's crude, disrespectful
and, immediately, he gains the admiration of his classmates. He's the
stereotypical smart slacker-type, who'd rather argue about why he should
read a book than simply reading it because he's told to do so.
Predictably, Sedgewick's grades aren't particularly good, so Mr. Hundert
contacts his father in Washington, DC. This seems to motivate Sedgewick
and, suddenly, his grades improve and he shows some promise as a student.
A traditional contest at the school -- the Mr. Julius Caesar Contest --
is fast approaching. The contest places the top three students in direct
competition with one another answering questions from Mr. Hundert's class.
It's considered quite an honor to be chosen to compete. Sedgewick's final
paper, at first glance, leaves him just one point shy of getting into
the top three. Mr. Hundert, in what appears to be a nod to Sedgewick's
improvement, nudges the final paper's grade just enough to place him into
the top three. During the actual competition, however, Mr. Hundert catches
Sedgewick cheating. Rather than exposing him outright, Mr. Hundert does
something that makes Sedgewick lose without anyone knowing the wiser.
If it sounds like I've given
away the plot entirely, be assured that I haven't. In fact, what transpires
after these events makes up the bulk
of the movie's conflict between the principles of an honest man and those
of the mind that getting what you want is worth lying and cheating no
matter the consequences. The film asks the audience, "Is there a
middle ground where lying and cheating in the name of righteousness is
OK?" This raises some interesting points and provides much more to
chew on than I expected from the movie.
Kevin Kline, predictably, is in top-form. He's one of the screen's top
character actors and this is as good as he's ever been. Emile Hirsch plays
the smart-ass very well. He's made quite an impact this year with his
performances in this film and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. The rest
of the cast is acceptable in their neat and tidy cardboard cutout roles.
The film truly belongs to Kline and Hirsch. (Although Joel Gretsch plays
the older Sedgewick in slimy fashion just as well.)
Emperor's Club a great film? No, it's not. It's schmaltzy and
somewhat akin to a made-for-TV movie but at its core is a strong message
about hypocrisy that deserves to be seen. This would be a fine film for
families to watch together and discuss the implications of the character's
Kline was featured in the 2002 movie, Orange County, but was uncredited. (Source: The
Internet Movie Database)