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Tea and empathy. Tinkering with his screen persona, comedian-actor Robin Williams plays it relatively straight as a dedicated teacher at an elite Vermont prep school. The year is 1959, a time of strict adherence to educational goals and teaching methods at Welton, under the no-nonsense stewardship of headmaster Nolan (Norman Lloyd). The academic apple cart teeters, however, when John Keating (Williams) is engaged to teach a class of bright and impressionable young men (the film's attention-getting title refers to a secret club to which Keating belonged as a student). An inspirational, brilliant mentor, Keating ignores conventional teaching procedures and offers his students life-changing access to a brave new world of culture, ideas, and creativity. The story turns on how the boys are affected by the counsel of the educator (whom they call "Captain," after Walt Whitman's elegy of Abraham Lincoln), focusing on seven students: aspiring writer Todd (Ethan Hawke); his roommate, Neil (Robert Sean Leonard), who longs to be an actor but is intimidated by his disapproving father (Kurtwood Smith); intellectual Steven (Allelon Ruggiero); lovesick Knox (Josh Charles); the flip Charlie (Gale Hansen); maverick Gerard (James Waterson); and pragmatic Richard (Dylan Kussman). Keating encourages Neil to boldly defy his father by taking a role in a school play, with tragic consequences. The role of Keating is a plum assignment for the talented Williams, who largely steers clear of schtick under Peter Weir's direction. Nicely shot with a good youthful cast.