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REVIEW: The Emperor’s Club: ‘One of the best films of the year!’

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–I have this friend who cheated on more than one test during his years of matriculating. Partially out of laziness, partially out of fear of failing, he took what he then thought was the easy way to a passing grade.

He has since repented of that practice and realized that it is the process of learning that benefits you far more than the subject being studied. He merely cheated himself. Although my friend assures me that he would no longer finagle his way around a test, he has lived with the dread that his past school crimes might indicate something lacking in his character.

Astonished by the plotline of The Emperor’s Club, he joyously left the press screening able to accept the truism that a person’s character is not formed from one negative act. Nor for that matter, one positive act. A life is made up of moments that reveal character — moments that allow for development of that character. After years of living under the oppression of guilt, that’s not a bad lesson to gain from a Hollywood production.

Kevin Kline stars as Arthur Hundert, a dedicated and inspiring professor, much like Mr. Chips and Mr. Holland. However, when a new student, the headstrong son of a powerful senator, joins his class, Mr. Hundert’s life is inexorably altered. Hundert sees real potential in the boy, but when the lad ultimately stays the course of moral apathy, it’s the teacher who feels he has failed.

Any further details revealed would take away from the audience’s enjoyment. Suffice it to say, the film is a morality tale about how turning your back on moral crimes has consequences. It deals with the subject of integrity and where that fits in with our human development. And if that sounds a bit heady for an evening at the cinema, rest assured, it accomplishes all this while remaining one of the most engrossing, uplifting films of the fall season.

The Emperor’s Club is adroitly written, pointing out that character is something that blossoms over a lifetime. And like Goodbye, Mr. Chips, it has lots of heart, yet avoids becoming saccharine or artificial.

Kline gives one of his best-defined performances. Come Oscar time, it may well be awarded for being one of the most inspiring performances this year. You know the saying; the eyes are the windows to the soul? Well, Mr. Kline not only lets us see in, he somehow reflects out, helping us to understand our own behavior. He is an actor of great depth and comprehension.

In a state of reflection after leaving the theater, my friend philosophized that one’s integrity is all he truly possesses. The possession of anything else is merely temporal. Our strengths and abilities are gifts from God. But we alone steer the course of our personal integrity. For we alone make a conscious decision to either nurture or smother integrity.

As for the film’s occasionally coarse content, my friend sensed the film’s stirring message was overshadowing its few inappropriate activities. He didn’t feel the content was exploitive, but rather was used by the filmmakers to reveal the attitudes of some teens coming to grips with adulthood. For him, The Emperor’s Club had a profound impact.

So, who’s my friend? C’est Moi, ’tis I.

PG-13 [4 misuses of Jesus’ name, 4 obscenities, 2 crude words, 2 sexual references and 2 expletives; there is one obscene gesture and the expression “oh my God” is heard four or five times, but none of this comes from the lead character — he is an example of understanding and temperance; the bad boy student temps others to misbehave and he opens his chest, revealing many temptations — it’s like Pandora’s box filled with girlie magazines, cigarettes and other tantalizing moral distractions; in one scene, a couple of comments about the female form; some of the boys row over to the nearby girls’ school, where some sexual entendre is exchanged and the group prepares to go skinny dipping, but they are interrupted and chastised for the bad example they have made of their school; adults have had too much to drink at a party; the lead is in love with a married woman, but each remains honorable to the marriage vows; the movie doesn’t suggest any physical infidelity, but rather portrays two people who show regard for the institution of marriage.]

If you do not wish to support this film’s objectionable content, try my Video Alternative: Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Robert Donat is outstanding as a committed teacher. Made long, long ago, but still moving and completely engaging. Wow, what a film. Pass on the 1969 remake. Although Peter O’Toole is one of my favorite actors, his musical rendition of this 1939 classic leaves much to be desired.

The Emperor’s Club. Kevin Kline, Steven Culp, Embeth Davidtz, Patrick Dempsey. Universal. Drama. W-Neil Tolkin. D-Michael Hoffman. 11/22/02
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THE EMPEROR’S CLUB 2 and THE EMPEROR’S CLUB 3.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright