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The Emperor's Club

Promotional poster
Directed by Michael Hoffman
Produced by Marc Abraham
Lisa Bruce
Thomas Bliss
Written by Ethan Canin
Neil Tolkin
Starring Kevin Kline
Emile Hirsch
Embeth Davidtz
Rob Morrow
Edward Hermann
Harris Yulin
Paul Dano
Jesse Eisenberg
Rahul Khanna
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Lajos Koltai
Editing by Harvey Rosenstock
Distributed by Universal Pictures(USA)
Beacon Communications
Release date(s) November 22, 2002
Running time 110 min.
Country  United States
Language English
Budget US$12.5 million
Gross revenue US$16.12 million

The Emperor's Club is a 2002 film that tells the story of a prep school teacher and his students. Based on Ethan Canin's short story "The Palace Thief," the film is directed by Michael Hoffman and stars Kevin Kline. The movie is set at a fictional boys' prep school, St. Benedict's Academy, located in Andover, MA. The movie was filmed at Emma Willard School in Troy, NY. Kevin Kline is also said to have traveled to Regis High School in Manhattan to prepare for his role.

Contents

Plot

William Hundert (Kevin Kline) is a passionate Classics professor enthusiastic about the start of the school year. His class turns out to be a strict yet inspiring lesson for the new students arriving at St. Benedict's Academy. They include laid-back Louis Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg), the introverted Martin Blythe (Paul Dano), and the studious Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta), all highly intelligent. Hundert inspires his students to study hard in order to become one of the three contestants for The Emperor's Club and be crowned "Mr. Julius Caesar", a competition which puts the top three students of his class in a contest where they will be asked questions regarding the Classics. When the headmaster (Edward Hermann) is explaining the contest to the students, he mentions that Martin's father was once a "Mr. Julius Caesar".

Hundert quickly gains the respect of his class and the school year gets off to an orderly start. However Hundert finds his tightly-controlled world shaken when a new student, Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), walks into his classroom. Sedgewick Bell is the cocky son of a senior U.S Senator who possesses none of Hundert's principles. Initially, a fierce battle of wills takes place between Hundert and Bell. Bell's rebellious nature quickly makes him the interest of the class, as he not only is willing to talk back against Hundert, he also freely shares pornographic material and is willing to play hooky and travel off-limits to a nearby prep school for girls. Despite Blythe's constant pleas not to break rules, Masoudi and even studious Mehta find themselves enjoying their rebellious tendencies with Bell. Despite this, Hundert is able to humiliate Bell when he asks the class to list, in chronological order, all the Roman emperors. All the other students comply in perfect unison, effectively embarrassing Bell who has not studied the course material. Hundert also makes a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with Senator Bell from West Virginia. Bell's father is clearly uninterested in his son's character development while at St. Benedict's, instead telling Hundert just to teach Bell lessons so he can graduate, giving Hundert some insight into the younger Bell's prior upbringing. Hundert returns to St. Benedict's and finds that Sedgewick Bell has received a phone call from Senator Bell who chews out Sedgewick for wasting his time in having to see Hundert and his money on the tuition (but he does not yell at his son for being a slacker). After seeing a chastized Sedgewick, Hundert begins to develop a close student-teacher relationship as Hundert tries to become a mentor to Bell in order to help change him into a better man. Bell starts studying, proving to be a bright student and eventually his grades improve enormously. Bell eventually finishes in the top three in Hundert's competition that precedes the Emperor's Club contest, along with fellow classmates Masoudi and Mehta. Bell had actually earned his position at fourth place, until Hundert privately decided to raise his grade on the final essay after reviewing it again, thus moving him above Blythe, the third place winner. Hundert is caught between celebrating Bell's newfound success and feeling guilty when he sees a despondent Blythe sitting all by himself under a tree.

The entire school watches the competition, as the three contestants are quizzed by Hundert. After many questions, the confident Masoudi is the first to make a mistake and he is thus eliminated. As the competition narrows down to Mehta and Bell, Hundert becomes increasingly suspicious of Bell raising his toga to his head to think. When Hundert takes a recess to confer with the headmaster; he is urged to give Bell a pass as Senator Bell is in attendance. He then asks Bell a question not in the books: "Who was Hamilcar Barca?", knowing full well that the answer would not be on any materials used to cheat (It was not even in the curriculum) but knowing that Mehta would be able to answer it due to his personal interest in military science and reading about the Carthagian general in his spare time. Bell is stumped and Mehta is crowned Mister Julius Caesar of The Emperor's Club. Afterwards, Bell openly admits to Hundert what Hundert had suspected earlier: that Bell cheated by placing crib notes on the inside of his toga sleeve. It is revealed in the end, Bell could not take the pressure of losing, and like his father, tried everything he could to guarantee a win. Although Hundert does not publicize this, the trust he once had with Bell is broken. The next couple of scenes show the students graduating to higher grades before finally their graduation from St. Benedict's Academy, and Bell shown reverting to his punky behavior and loss of interest in academia. In the year 1976, Bell is shown barely squeaking by in his classes, but gaining acceptance to Yale University on account of being Senator Bell's son. During this time, Hundert regrets not being able to influence Bell more.

Twenty-five years later, Hundert is denied his bid to become headmaster of the school by the board, who feel he lacks the ability to drum up financial donations for the school. Hundert immediately resigns. Later he receives an invitation for a class reunion and a chance to meet up with his students at an event (surprisingly) staged by a full-grown Bell (Joel Gretsch), who is now extremely rich and successful. Once reunited with his students, he is impressed that every one of his students from that fateful class had done well since their days at St. Bendict's and all had successful careers in business, with Deepak Metha now a professor himself. It is also revealed that Hundert, ironically, is the one who will get Sedgewick Bell to pay for building a new school library under the circumstances that Hundert would host a "Mr. Julius Caesar" contest rematch between Bell and his fellow alumni Masoudi and Mehta. Before the match Bell talks to Hundert about how his influence had really changed his life and he hopes that he would be able to regain his dignity in the rematch. An enthusiastic Hundert agrees to host once again. And so the Emperor's Club contest is again played, albeit the crowd being Bell's schoolfriends and their respective wives and children, and the three contestants still wearing togas, but with tuxedos. Masoudi quickly falls on the first question. Again, the main competition is between Mehta (Rahul Khanna) and Bell as both still remember (or kept up diligent study of) their lessons from Hundert's class. Sadly, despite Hundert's belief that Bell has changed, he is able to perceive that Bell is cheating, this time through a hired graduate student feeding him answers through a clandestine earpiece. Hundert poses another unofficial question, this one regarding the plaque over his door, asking "Who was Shutruk-Nahhunte"? Despite supportive shouts from his classmates that this one is easy and they all know this one, Bell again does not know the answer due to him being a late arrival to Saint Benedict's and not being told about the leader at Mr. Hundert's first class (or ever taking the time to look around the classroom to study the plaque). Mehta is crowned Mr. Julius Caesar once again. After the competition ends and Bell recongratulates Mehta for defending his title of "Mr. Julius Caesar", Bell announces that he will be running for a seat in the U.S. Senate just like his father, stressing taxpayer funding of education. Hundert finally sees that Bell only used the event to drum up support for his campaign and to get contributions from his old classmates.

Shortly after his announcement, Hundert and Bell run into each other in the bathroom, where Hundert confronts Bell about his immorality. Bell coldly goes on to tell Hundert that Hundert has no accomplishments in life, whereas he will become a nationally famous seantor no matter what the cost. Bell also says it does not matter that he cheated, as life is full of cheaters. Just then, Bell's son, who had admired his father up to this point, comes out of a stall with a shocked expression on his face, and Bell is left to face his son and rationalize his Machiavellian ways. Hundert believes that Bell will become just like his father was; too wrapped up in his political life to devote attention to his family and properly raise his son. Hundert, realizing again that he has failed Bell, now recognizes the importance of letting Blythe know that he had given away Blythe's seat in the original "Mr. Julius Caesar" contest. He confesses his action from a ¼ century ago to Blythe, who attempts to be mature about this revelation but then excuses himself, his mannerisms strongly suggesting he did not appreciate having old wounds reopened. Hundert, feeling he has failed two students contemplates his legacy as a teacher.

Hundert wakes up the next morning and goes to the dining room expecting one last breakfast with his pupils. Instead, he finds an empty room and is told that they have all left already. Hundert dejectedly returns to his room, only to discover that the men had thrown him a surprise party. All his students are at the party, except Bell, who seen talking with reporters; beginning his political campaign. Nonetheless the meeting is a joyous event as Hundert and his students talk about how much he has influenced them and how they are grateful that he was their teacher. Mehta gives Hundert a gift "from one teacher to another", which is an inscribed plaque quoting the value of mentoring. Hundert finally comes to the realization that while he failed to turn Bell into a better man, he still has helped make many of his pupils into better men and he accepts the offer that he is always welcome for reinstatement at Saint Benedict's, going back to his old job as the teacher.

Hundert thus returns to St. Benedict's Academy and again teaches Classics to a new class (which is now coeducational). It is also revealed that one of his students is Blythe's son, who is proud that his father was once Hundert's student. Hundert then asks Blythe's son to read the plaque over his door, just as young Blythe did at the beginning of the film. Hundert then looks out the window to see Martin Blythe proudly waving to him, and an expression that Hundert has found peace with his past troubles and gladness that he has been truthful with Blythe.

Cast

Critical reception

The film received mixed reviews from critics. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 50 percent of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 123 reviews.[1] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 49 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.[2]

Goofs

While Mr. Hundert is adding up the final scores for the Mr. Julius Caesar Contest, he spells Masoudi's name "Louis." However, in the yearbook he is reading on his way to the re-match, Masoudi's name is spelled "Luis."

References

External links

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