Sep 9, 2014

Review: Dead Poets Society (1989)

It has been close to a month since the death of Robin Williams who sadly passed away on August 11th, 2014. It's honestly still really hard to believe that we all live in a post-Robin Williams world now. Over the years I've liked, disliked or even loved the movies that he's been in. But looking beyond the movies he's been in, Robin has always seemed like a real stand up guy. He's made us laugh, he's made us cry and he's a huge loss for everyone. 

The only movie I believe that I've reviewed so far with Robin Williams was Patch Adams and I have to say that I strongly disliked it. In retrospect I feel a little bit bad about it but it's just a review on a movie that he happened to be in. It's not an attack on Robin Williams himself and not everyone can be in great movies all the time anyway.

With Dead Poets Society, I once again find myself watching a super popular movie that I've never seen before which feels like it happens way too often for someone like me. That's right, I've never seen Dead Poets Society before now and no I don't know what's wrong with me. I've heard that Robin Williams' performance in this movie is regarded as one of his finest ones so I had some pretty high expectations going in. 

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Genre: drama
Directed by: Peter Weir
Produced by: Steven Haft, Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas, etc.
Written by: Tom Schulman
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Running time: 128 minutes
Production company: Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures, Warner Bros., Buena Vista International, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $16,400,000
Box office: $235,860,116 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, James Waterston, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith, Carla Belver, Leon Pownall, George Martin, Joe Aufiery, Matt Carey, Kevin Cooney, Jane Moore, Colin Irving
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Synopsis


Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen), Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman), Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero), and Gerard Pitts (James Waterston) are a group of boys at a prep school named Welton Academy. It's conservative, strict and it follows certain traditions that are seen as proven to be successful for the development of young boys. The boys find themselves in an English class taught by past graduate and new teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) who scoffs at tradition and how things are meant to be. Instead, he preaches "carpe diem," or seize the day.

Review


Watching the opening ceremony of Welton Academy reminds me of my days at my private all-boys penitentiary high school from not too long ago. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit and we didn't actually have any bagpipe player either. It's pretty clear early on that this is a traditional school where square pegs go in square pegs, end of story. No round pegs in these parts. The parents of the boys at Welton all buy into this environment, prominently exemplified by Neil Perry's father (Kurtwood Smith). It's demanding as far as coursework goes and it's all about making boys follow the school's four Pillars; tradition, honor, discipline and excellence.

Robin Williams' character represents a drastic wind of change. He gives an amazingly restrained performance that's also instantly recognizable. His usual characterizations where he changes his voice for comedic purposes are well inserted here. He's definitely funny but the end result here is that he's being a teacher, trying to instill some lessons into his young audience. He has a goal in mind and he uses his humour to further it. His dramatic moments are really well acted and he is unbelievably easy to buy as a teacher. It almost feels like he's criminally underused because he's all the same not the main focus of the movie. The boys are without a doubt.

Neil and Todd are the main focus of the Welton boys. They're two nice examples of character growth and the performances of Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke are quite nice. It's bizarre seeing Ethan Hawke so young but he plays a really good shy kid. It's really nice to watch John Keatings' warm attempts at bringing Todd out of his shell. Director Peter Weir clearly gets all his actors on the same page in Dead Poets Society. Whether it's the strict side of Welton showing or the friendship between Neil, Todd and his friends, you buy all of it.

Dead Poets Society did not disappoint me in the least. Peter Weir intersperses the old, stuffy school setting with nice shots of the world around Welton Academy, showing off the oyster that is there for the boys to claim. Robin Williams' performance isn't overhyped in the least and as a whole it's an inspirational and moving school drama piece. What heightens the effects of Dead Poets Society is that it's hard to separate the themes that the movie covers from the real life events of what happened to Robin Williams. Since Robin Williams' death, it's even more of a hard-hitting movie than it ever was before and it's probably worth a re-watch from those who have already seen it.


Rating


8/10