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Friday, 16 September 2016

Retro Movie Review: Dead Poets Society (1989) #RobinWilliams

Dead Poets Society
Cast: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard
Genre: Drama 
Lifetime Gross: Over $95 million

Trivia: the thing that attracted Robin Williams to the role of John Keating was that John Keating was the type of teacher, he in his school days, had wished he'd had

Plot:  A new English teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams) is introduced to an all-boys prep school that is known for its ancient traditions and high standards. He uses unorthodox methods to reach out to his students, who face enormous pressures from their parents and the school. With Keating's help, students Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) and Todd (Ethan Hawke) & others learn to break out of their shells, pursue their dreams and seize the day 

'Not As Good As Many Say It Is With Lots Of Potential Unfulfilled, (No) Thanks To A Banal Script'

Dead Poets Society was a movie I had high hopes to be as good as, and as entertaining and at times humourous as that of Good Morning, Vietnam, given all the praise, hearty recognition and critical and worldwide positive feedback fans, critics, moviegoers had given to it. So it was to my surprise when I watched it for the first time a few years ago, that I'd sensed that it overplays itself as an anti-establishment educational-based drama whilst it also underplays as an interesting and entertaining feature film. 

In this 1989 effort directed by Peter Weir with support by then-unknown actors, Robert Sean Leonard who went on to do Much Ado About Nothing and medical TV drama, House M.D & Ethan Hawke with White FangTraining Day, Gattaca and Before Sunrise, Robin Williams is John Keating, the new English teacher at an all-boys prep school, whose unconventional methods and philosophical-like way of thinking encourages and motivates his students to approach their studies with more openness and freedom. 

The romance between one of the male students towards one of the females was so boring, in fact, about 90% of this film was so dreary and boring, it made me switch off.  

The main conflict in this movie is between Neil, who dreams of becoming an actor and his father, who is against his wishes to do so and pressurises him to become a doctor. The pressures get to Neil and affect him so much that it leads to an unfortunate and sad ending.  
The acting in this movie is fine, but the script is so banal and dull it put me to sleep, several times. I watch movies that entertain, enlighten me: this film is enlightening at times, but as a spectacle, it doesn't entertain me that much. Also when Neil commits suicide, we don't really see the film showing signs of his mental state and emotional struggles or scenes that led up to that moment. It is like it was happening so sudden with no explanation given: there was no real build-up or tension, whatsoever. I also think it is quite ironic that despite the title, it touches very little on the poetry aspect - with only short glimpses of John Keating teaching it to his students and that this film sets itself up as a tale of inspiration and uplifting positivity, yet it somehow throws in a suicide scene. Therefore, as sad as that scene was, it really seemed to be out of place for a movie that echoes positive sentiments. At the same time though, it was a 'pick me up' moment and in turn, it regained my interest, for a short while until the end credits rolled.     

Robin Williams shines in this movie: his performance was remarkable and yet, it is a shame there weren't more scenes of him throughout its duration because let's face it, the movie's enormous success was entirely down to his performance as John Keating. When he's on-screen, he really lights up this film, he is effective and has an enjoyable screen presence in his role & makes it mildly enjoyable and palpable. There is one scene where he injects humour into it and makes the students laugh, but other than that, he plays it dead straight throughout the entirety of this film and exists as nothing more than a plot device. Yet take away Robin Williams, and you don't have much in a way of a movie worth talking about. He makes this movie worth seeing, because of everything else, well script-wise (apart from some of the inspirational quotes) didn't sustain my interest. It wasn't too heavy-handed, but neither did it engage me fully. 

The rest of the characterisations (other than John Keating and Neil's father) in the school admins, parents & the other students who side with the admins, are too obvious and utterly bland and one-dimensional. From the one-dimensional and rather pretentious students to the equally one-sided parents of those students. What is there we should know about these students, other than of them smoking pot or whatever? Do they have much of a personality that we should talk about? In Dead Poets Society, apparently not so. Neither of them really end up saying much of anything of real interest. 

Instead of the story centrally focusing on the students and seeing them develop or of John Keating's attempts at making the classes and lessons more interesting - something that Dangerous Minds did - the director and writer just seem to be so intent on focusing on the plot and narrative, and yet not go out of their way to make this movie thoroughly enticing and exciting to the audience by having John the core focus of it all. I would have expected that for all the film's hype and building Robin Williams up to be the main star and top draw that 90-99% of the movie's content would be dominated by him. But nope

It's a shame, therefore, its potential was unfulfilled, despite being a financial success, tickets-wise; but this movie's biggest flaw is that the excellent performances are sadly bogged down by an excruciatingly dull script. 

For all the hype, I knew as I was sitting through this I wasn't missing much & at the end, I felt pretty much nothing for Dead Poets Society. It's just as well that Robin Williams inclusion prevents me from giving it a lower mark. 

Watching and enjoying 1995's Dangerous Minds with Michelle Phieffer made me ask myself: ''now why couldn't Dead Poets Society be as entertaining and interesting as that movie?''.

Because the unfortunate keyword I'd use describe this movie is dull. 

Favourite Robin Williams Character Lines:

- Carp Diem, Seize the day

- I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way 

- No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world 

- You must trust your beliefs are unique, your own even though others may think then odd or unpopular

- I thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself


Pros +

- Robin Williams, that is all

- Acting is excellent 

- Promising start

- Beautiful setting 

Cons -

- Excruciatingly dull and plodding narrative and script 

- Not enough interesting and exciting moments

- Too much focus on the plot and narrative and little attempt at making it interesting  

- Irony of the movie's theme about seizing opportunities - yet throwing in a suicide scene as well

Final Verdict:

Though I do understand why this movie was lauded so much by moviegoers, fans, and critics, it has 1 or 2 interesting scenes and Robin Williams amazing -yet serious turn as John Keating, I just wished it held my attention far longer and was far more interesting. 

For a non-typical Robin Williams movie, performance- wise he is great but Dead Poets Society, along with and to an extent Seize The Day are the most boring films he has appeared in. I really wanted to love this movie, after reading all the praising and gushing reviews and comments from people - but in all, it left me feeling somewhat indifferent towards it (but for Robin's portrayal) and whilst I don't hate it, this is not the movie I expected it would turn out to be. And yet also, it didn't have enough entertaining and eye-popping scenes that made me go 'wow, that is an incredible movie'. 

I loved Robin Williams as John Keating, but not so much this movie itself. There just wasn't enough scenes of him in it, and that is a great pity considering that Dead Poets Society is lauded by many as a Robin Williams movie. 

Compared to Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King and Awakenings, performance - wise alone, Robin is terrific in Dead Poets Society but with far more substantial material at his disposal, in my eyes, he did it way better in those above movies than with this effort. 

At most, I'd give this movie an extra half a mark for Robin's performance. 


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