The Emperor's Club

The Emperor's Club

2002, PG-13, 109 min. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Starring Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Embeth Davidtz, Edward Herrmann, Steven Culp, Rob Morrow, Patrick Dempsey, Joel Gretsch, Harris Yulin.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 22, 2002

This boys boarding-school story buries an interesting storyline about morality and the choices we make underneath such a mountain of clichés and borrowed images that it might more accurately be titled Mr. Chips off the Old Block. The movie re-teams director Hoffman and leading man Kline who worked together on Soapdish and A Midsummer Night's Dream, but their alliance forged much better results in those two comedies than in this drearily told morality play. With a title that replicates the sound of The Dead Poets' Society, The Emperor's Club is based on a short story titled "The Palace Thief" by Ethan Canin. Kline plays William Hundert, an assistant headmaster and classics professor at a private boys school in 1972. His passion is introducing the minds of young men to the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and bringing their musty histories to life through the wearing of costumes and the performance of tableaux and such. All is going swimmingly with his new freshman class until the introduction midsemester of a new transfer student -- Sedgewick Bell (Hirsch), the son of a West Virginia senator. Hundert and the willful Bell commence a power struggle for the hearts and minds of the other students. Bell's good looks and defiance of authority make him an immediate hero in the eyes of the other students -- and probably the audience as well. Hundert embarks on a program of conduct designed to reach the younger man and turn him around. However, what begins as a few small compromises on Hundert's part eventually mushrooms into one large rationalization that comes back to bite him on the ass 25 years later. In dramatic terms, Bell's capitulation to good studenthood occurs at an unbelievably rapid clip and the movie's 25-years-later third act seemingly stretches on forever. Red herring characters such as the fellow teacher played by Rob Morrow and the married love interest played by Embeth Davitz are hardly necessary, so little do they contribute to the overall story. Kline is at his Oxford best as the buttoned-down prof, although there's a sense of the actor roiling underneath the character's restraint. The Emperor's Club would be a much better film had it not relied so heavily on a bombastic soundtrack (by James Newton Howard) for its emotional impact and spared itself some of the more overdone images of campus life (a scull on the river, a baseball through a window, students jostling in the hall after the posting of grades, etc.). In the end, The Emperor's Club is purely plebian.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Michael Hoffman Films
The Best of Me
It's getting hard to tell one Nicholas Sparks adaptation from another amid all the dross.

Kimberley Jones, Oct. 17, 2014

The Last Station
This nimble movie about Tolstoy's last days stars Christopher Plummer as the author and Helen Mirren as his high-strung wife, Sofya.

Kimberley Jones, Feb. 12, 2010

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Pika pika pika? Pika pika pika pika pika pika pika.

May 10, 2019

Sunset
Period drama keeps the techniques of Oscar winner Son of Saul but loses the emotional weight

April 26, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Emperor's Club, Michael Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Embeth Davidtz, Edward Herrmann, Steven Culp, Rob Morrow, Patrick Dempsey, Joel Gretsch, Harris Yulin

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle