The Emperor's Club
(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
This film really took me back
to my days at an all-boys high
school. The Emperor's Club tells the story of a teacher
(Kevin Kline) at an exclusive prep school where the sons of best and the
brightest are trained to be the next generation of the best and the brightest.
Kline teaches a course on Roman and Greek Civilization, the ultimate dead-white-male
course. It really reminded me of latin class at my school, right
down to the Togas. And like Kline's character in the movie, my teachers,
we called them Masters, had been at the school forever. They were
Mr. Prentice (aka Ken Pren) and Mr. Collins (aka EJ) and 35 years later,
we still do impersonations of them.
But I digress as usual. The plot of The Emperor's Club is mostly told in flashbacks. Every year, three members of Kline's class are chosen to take part in a Roman/Greek History version of Who wants to be a Millionaire with Kline as Regis Philbin. In the movie, the son (Emile Hirsch) of a US Senator (Harris Yulin) enters the school and begins to disrupt the class. Kline makes this student his special project and, as the school year progresses, it appears that Hirsch has changed his ways and starts to perform well. When it comes time to pick the three students for the contest, Hirsch is one point out of third place. But Kline picks him anyway over the deserving third-place student (Paul Franklin Dano). So, Hirsch joins the top two students (Rishi Mehta and Jesse Eisenberg) in the contest. It all goes bad when during the contest, Kline realizes that Hirsch is cheating. Since Hirsch is so well-connected, the Headmaster (Edward Herrmann) refuses to blow the whistle. We flash forward 25 years. Kline has quit his job after being passed over for the headmaster job which went to a younger man (Rob Morrow). He is called out of retirement to referee a rematch of the contest with the same three students. All have been successful in life and Hirsch is now planning to run for his father's seat in the Senate. I won't say more but maybe you can guess what happens.
The Emperor's Club is very much from the mold of Dead Poets Society and Goodbye Mr. Chips. But, it can't really make up its mind between being a tragedy or a story of redemption. It follows the well-trod path of what happens when one small action triggers an unforeseen chain of events. But, the payoff doesn't seem worth it. Kline, whose character is the personification of integrity, makes one small slightly unethical decision. Then, it seems that we are the path to tragedy and that he will have to pay for this transgression. But, by the end, that doesn't happen. Neither is it a story of redemption as you will see when you see the end of the movie. But, I do love Kevin Kline and he is in some of my favorite movies including, The Big Chill, Silverado and Dave. And these films only scratch the surface of his great career. He is always good, even when the movie is awful (e.g., Wild Wild West). And Kline makes The Emperor's Club a compelling movie just by his presence. Otherwise, it is just a nice movie that takes me back to when the worst thing that could happen to you was getting a detention.