Just before he became Encino Man, Brendan Fraser shot his film debut with a group of future superstars in this very riveting drama about a young man’s attempt at belonging despite religious prejudice in the 1950’s.
David Greene is a young Jewish man who has accepted a scholarship at a prestigious New England prep school because of his football skills. Going to St. Matthews Academy, he hides his religion due to the fact that there is prejudice between Jewish and non-Jewish. Upon his arrival, he befriends his roommate Reese along with fellow seniors Rip, Charlie, Chesty, Connors, and Magoo.
David is the new quarterback and he’s joined the team so that St. Matt’s can finally defeat their rivals St. Luke’s. Despite reservations from Charlie, who was supposed to have been quarterback but has been relegated to halfback, David finds himself in a circle of new friends. He goes as far as defending one of his new friends when housemaster/French teacher Cleary drives the poor kid into a mental breakdown.
However, when David begins to have a crush on Charlie’s supposed girlfriend Sally, and she reciprocates, an accidental loudmouth reveals the secret David had been hiding since his arrival. What will David face when the secret finally comes out to all of his new friends?
This is perhaps one of the great underrated dramas to have come out in the past few decades. The young cast of characters; led by Brendan Fraser, help drive the film in terms of their performances. The chemistry between these characters is amazingly well done that it is almost like watching a documentary or biopic rather than this being a fictitious film that delves into the prejudice involving religion. What is interesting is that the film is based on the experiences of co-writer Dick Wolf, who would be known for creating the phenomenal TV series Law and Order.
Brendan Fraser shot this film before gaining fame as a caveman brought to modern times in Encino Man and gives out a terrific lead debut (after appearing in supporting roles just a year before). Fraser plays someone who only wants to be accepted despite the fact he is Jewish. He feels he must hide his religious background to belong and it is only when his secret is revealed that he learns the reality and consequences that happen with hiding his identity and not being true to not only his friends but to himself as well.
The supporting cast does quite well too. They include real-life best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Chris O’Donnell, Randall Bantinkoff, Anthony Rapp, and Cole Hauser. The chemistry works well here as we would end up seeing three of these actors (Affleck, Rapp, and Hauser) in Richard Linklater’s 1993 film Dazed and Confused. As for Damon, he plays Fraser’s new friend turned main rival in all of the chaos as it is he who feels betrayed not only because the one girl he likes actually likes Fraser more, but even more so, because of the fact that he is revealed to be Jewish. Amy Locane is the only main female of the cast and becomes the catalyst for the friendship turned rivalry between Damon and Fraser.
If you are a fan of Fraser, Affleck, Damon, and/or O’Donnell, then School Ties is definitely one to check out as it is a riveting drama that focuses on religious persecution and finding one’s true identity in a prejudice world. Worth a rental for sure.
WFG RATING: B+
A Paramount Pictures production. Director: Robert Mandel. Producers: Stanley R. Jaffe and Sherry Lansing. Writers: Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan. Cinematography: Freddie Francis.
Editing: Jerry Greenberg and Jacqueline Cambas.
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Randall Bantinkoff, Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser, Anthony Rapp, Željko Ivanek, Amy Locane, Kevin Tighe, Andrew Lowery, Ed Lauter, Peter Donat.