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Professor William Hundert (Kevin Kline) is about to retire after 34 years teaching the classics at elite St Benedicts school for boys. A committed educator who believes 'a man's character is his fate', he is admired by all for running the annual Mr Julius Caesar competition - a rigorous knowledge test with lasting prestige accorded the winner. On the eve of his farewell, Hundert remembers his experiences 25 years earlier with Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), the son of West Virginia senator Hyram Bell (Harris Yulin). The battle of wills culminates at the Mr Julius Caesar competition when Hundert discovers Sedgewick has been cheating. When the adult Bell returns for Hundert's farewell, he proposes a re-running of the competition to restore his reputation.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Impeccably performed and carefully crafted, The Emperor's Club is a solid adult drama that can be admired at a distance but is too well-mannered to really engage us. A reworking of themes familiar from Goodbye Mr Chips (1939) and Dead Poets Society (1989), this portrait of a committed educator battling an unruly student could have borrowed some of the political and social spark from Lindsay Anderson's masterpiece If....(1968) to make proceedings more compelling. As it stands this is a very well ordered chronicle of life in the kind of institution that serves as a production line for future politicians and corporate leaders. The teacher who sacrifices personal happiness in order to instil noble values in young minds is played with precision by Kevin Kline and newcomer Emile Hirsch is impressive as the rebel but the drama feels stretched as Hundert attempts to save this blue-blood brat from himself. Although some much needed energy is injected in the final scenes in which a re-run of the original Julius Caesar competition is staged at the request of Sedgewick, who's now an aspiring politician, most of this is played too politely to leave much of an impression.

The Emperor's Club is perfectly acceptable entertainment but that's just the problem. Kline is customarily good in the role but his character is so forcefully dedicated to promoting moral and ethical correctness he becomes annoying at times. For us to care about Hundert and the fate of these boys - in whose eyes many of us will see the corrupt politicians and corporate criminals of tomorrow - we need a more incisive and revealing screenplay than the very safe one offered by Neil Tolkin and Ethan Canin. Lajos Koltai's camera makes everything look crisp and pretty and there are good supporting roles for Rob Morrow as Hundert's faculty ally and Embeth Davidtz as the woman Hundert secretly loves but there's not much bite and little to make us feel involved in the rarified world of St Benedict's. The Emperor's Club has enough quality ingredients to not be classed as a failure but its study of a flawed hero is not the uplifting experience it aspires to be either.

Special Features reviewed by Louise Keller:

Features are minimal, with the focus on the interviews with Kline and other cast and crew members, as they talk about their roles, their characters and the metaphor that is played out between old and compromised values.

Published September 11, 2003

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CAST: Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Embeth Davidtz, Rob Morrow, Edward Herrman.

DIRECTOR: Michael Hoffman

SCRIPT: Neil Tolkin (from short story by Ethan Canin)

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1; widescreen presentation

SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer; Behind the Scenes Interviews; Cast/Crew biographies; Easter Egg to trailers for In and Out and Life as a House

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: September 1, 2003

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