1992 Directed by Robert Mandel. Starring Brendan Fraser, Chris O'Donnell, Matt Damon, Andrew Lowery, Cole Hauser.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 18, 1992
In a Hollywood powerscape where so many of the key players come from Jewish backgrounds, it's rather peculiar that there have been so few films dealing with the issue of anti-Semitism. Director Robert Mandel (Taps, F/X) tackles this loaded subject head-on and comes up with a film that, while well-done and skillfully played, nonetheless comes across as oddly unaffecting. School Ties wants very much to be the crowd-pleasing, prep-school, period piece that Dead Poets Society was, yet when combined with the sincerity necessitated by the subject matter, it overpowers the audience in its attempt to do both and ultimately ends up as neither. Brendan Fraser (Encino Man) is David Greene, a young Jewish kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who is recruited by a fine New England preparatory academy to serve as their star quarterback. During his first meeting with his new classmates, none of whom are aware of his religious background, he hears them make a few topical Jewish slurs and, worried what they may think of him, decides to keep his faith a secret for the time being. Naturally, before too long, his secret is out; one of the most affecting scenes in the film occurs when David enters his dorm room one evening to find a sheet tacked above his bed with a swastika and the message “Go Home Jew” painted on it. Fraser handles the role of David well enough -- he's certainly got the seething part down right -- but something fundamental in his performance fails to ring true. In light of all we know about his character, it's hard to believe this kid would ever have been able to stomach the thought of closeting his heritage away for mere acceptance by wealthy preppies. By the end of the film, when David is framed by another student nearly caught cheating on an honor test, the whole story begins to feel contrived. Mandel and producer Sherry Lansing have obviously put their whole into the creation of what ought to have been a riveting and powerful film. Instead, School Ties ends up about as memorable as a plate of gefilte fish.