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Dead Poets Society

August 25, 2010

Dead Poets Society (1989)
Director: Peter Weir
Actors: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke

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Synopsis: John Keating (Robin Williams) returns to teach English at his stuffy New England alma mater, Welton Academy. Unfortunately, though proving inspirational to his students, his libertarian vibes do not sit so well with the school and the students’ parents.

Review: This is a perfect example of consummate narrative cinema. Peter Weir has made a habit over the years of proving a dab pair of hands when given what might seem on paper like stodgy genre pieces (for example The Truman Show and Master and Commander), and he doesn’t disappoint with Dead Poets Society.

The ease with which the story plays out belies the underlying craftsmanship, with the clinical visuals and stately photography depicting the privileged/repressive dichotomy of life at Welton Academy superbly, while a sly shift into thriller mode (use of slo-mo and evocative musical score) wrings the most out of the suicide scene. Equally commendable is the way the material veers just the right side of gooey sentimentality. The boys’ carpe diem philosophy is not unequivocally lionised, and their actions are shown through the prism of their undoubted naivete and innocence when Dalton’s sometime reckless pranks and Knox’s occasionally cringeworthy courtship tactics, err from their teacher’s ideal instruction. (March 2009)

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