Pic is not so much about Robin Williams, as unconventional English teacher John Keating at a hardline New England prep school, as it is about the youths he teaches and how the creative flames within them are kindled and then stamped out.
Director Peter Weir fills the screen with a fresh gang of compelling teenagers, led by Robert Sean Leonard as outgoing Neil Perry and balanced by Ethan Hawke as deeply withdrawn Todd Anderson.
Keating enters their rigidly traditional world and has them literally rip out the pages of their hidebound textbooks in favor of his inventive didactics on the spirit of poetry.
Captivated by Keating’s spirit, the influential Neil provokes his mates into reviving a secret club, the Dead Poets Society, that Keating led in his prep school days.
Meanwhile the gifted, medical-school-bound Neil begins to pursue acting, his true aspiration, against the strenuous objections of his domineering father (Kurtwood Smith).
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Story sings whenever Williams is onscreen. Screen belongs just as often to Leonard, who as Neil has a quality of darting confidence mixed with hesitancy. Hawke, as the painfully shy Todd, gives a haunting performance.
1989: Best Original Screenplay.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Robin Williams)