Aneesh Chaganty

Movie #212 The Emperor’s Club

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 at 8:31 PM

Movie #212 The Emperor’s Club

(2002, US, d. Michael Hoffman)

Perhaps it was because I attended a very small private school at the age (graduating class of 8). Perhaps it is because I have very little positive sentiment (apart from to the teachers) about the institution. But either way, the second half of this film failed for me. But let’s get started from the first. The first half of The Emperor’s Club is an example of writing brilliance. We are introduced to a teacher with a weird last name for a movie – William Hundert (played with confidence by Kevin Kline) – who teaches at a very prestigious private institution: St. Benedicts Academy for Boys. Their primary goal is to mold these individuals, most of whom come from very well-off families, to be the leaders in the world they were meant to be. At this school, though, is a competition. It tackles European history and the top three minds of the class compete. It is the highest honor, apart from graduating, one can leave the school with: to be crowned “Mr. Julius Caesar”. The film introduces us to “the class”, including the very young then-unknown stars Paul Dano, Jesse Eisenberg, Emile Hirsch, and even Patrick Dempsey. Emile Hirsch plays Sedgewick Bell, son of a senator and catalyst for the film’s events. After arriving at the school mid-quarter and being personally looked after by Mr. Hundert, Bell is given the honor of competing for the Mr. Julius Caesar crown – an honor not rightfully his, for Mr. Hundert had to eliminate another deserving student’s position to secure Bell’s. And then the unexpected happens: Bell cheats in the competition. The Emperor’s Club starts off like the usual teacher/motivational story but then turns into something different. It is not the story of how a regular teacher becomes extraordinary. Rather, it is the story of an extraordinary teacher who fails his students. Years later, Mr. Hundert is invited to Bell’s house, where Bell wants to stage a more legitimate rematch. Whether Bell redeems himself here is something I won’t give away, but as far as the first half of the film goes – we care for nearly every character, the moments are genuine, and there is real tension to carry us through. The second half of this film, or the rematch, is where it all falls apart. It is not because of the actual events that were going on, which were actually kind of intriguing, but simply due to the plausibility that so much value could have been placed on a competition when looked upon in hindsight, couldn’t have mattered at all. Again, perhaps it was because I went to a similar institution, not in grandeur but in size and scope. Overall, though, The Emperor’s Club is a surprisingly fresh take on the teacher genre and doing so, becomes quite moving as well.

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