Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 2002. Beacon Communications, Fine Line Features, Horsepower Films, LivePlanet, Longfellow Pictures, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Screenplay by Neil Tolkin, based on the short story The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin. Cinematography by Lajos Koltai. Produced by Marc Abraham. Music by James Newton Howard. Production Design by Patrizia von Brandenstein. Costume Design by Cynthia Flynt. Film Editing by Harvey Rosenstock. Toronto International Film Festival 2002.
Oh dear, Mr. Holland has written an essay about Dead Poets and said Goodbye to Mr. Chips before signing it To Sir With Love. There is absolutely not one cliché of teacher films that hasn’t already been mined in this flat drama starring Kevin Kline. He plays a prestigious ancient history professor at a boys’ prep school in the seventies who encounters a problematic son of a state senator (Emile Hirsch) and coaches him into becoming a good student. He thinks he’s done right by the lad until the two find themselves in a moral conundrum at an important contest of historical knowledge that the noted educator organizes every year. Twenty-five years later, it appears that the young wayward man wants to make up for the past and decides to reunite all his fellow students and invite his teacher back to hold the match one more time. Unfortunately, director Michael Hoffman never makes us care for a second about the subject matter involved: trivia questions about ancient Rome are never quite as fascinating as Marleen Gorris managed to make chess look in The Luzhin Defence (and for goodness sake, that was chess). Kline’s performance can only be labelled appropriate, while the film suffers from tired situations, unconvincing period detail and a problem with mathematics: when the characters are reunited after twenty-five years, they’re played by guys who look like they’re still in their early thirties. Kline is given excellent aging makeup for his hair and face, but his physical agility never changes between the two eras and therefore gives his whole show away.