William Hundert, St. Benedict's assistant headmaster, practices what he teaches. Striving to inspire his students to live rightly, he's the kind of impassioned Classics professor who believes the history of the Greeks and Romans is more than just a lesson about the past. He also believes the role of a teacher is not only to educate the pupil but to mold his character. But in the fall of 1972, Hundert finds his cloistered world of tradition and influence upended with the arrival of new freshmen Sedgewick Bell, the son of a West Virginia senator. Almost immediately, teacher and student become embroiled in a turbulent battle of wills with repercussions that would still be felt a quarter of a century later.
Kevin Kline plays William Hundert, a classics teacher at an all-boys prep school whose moral self-confidence (though not his starchy pomposity) is shaken by an amoral, charismatic senator's son (Emile Hirsch). Hundert's belief in the boy's intellectual potential leads him to commit a small ethical lapse, the consequences of which the movie, based on a story by Ethan Canin, traces smartly and tactfully. "The Emperor's Club" is to be congratulated for avoiding many of the sentimental cliches of the prep school genre; it certainly congratulates itself for this modest achievement. But the story is thin, and the characters, in spite of some good performances by the younger cast members, are too close to stereotypes for this to be much more than a tidy parable of the obvious. — A. O. Scott
2002-11-22 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of The Emperor's Club