School Ties (1992): Movie Review

Shikhar Jauhari

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In the film “School Ties,” Brendan Fraser plays David David, a Jewish lad from Scranton, Pennsylvania, working-class recruited by a posh New England prep school to play quarterback. Kevin Tighe, the coach, and Peter Donat, the headmaster, know he is Jewish, but they ignore it since they are focused on the team’s success. On his first day of school, the coach cautions him from drawing attention to the fact that he is Jewish.
David soon gains popularity on campus but pays a personal price: he keeps his religious and family history hidden from his friends to fear being shunned. If the Jewish New Year occurs on a Saturday, he’ll play football before reading his prayers in the school chapel that night.
David is the movie’s smartass, heartthrob, and quarterback. Consequently, he is not the kind to act philosophically when confronted with religious prejudice in the mid-1950s at a famous New England prep school. Indeed, “School Ties” has a physical aspect not generally seen in films on this subject due to David’s tendency to grab, berate, or otherwise challenge anybody who insults him. One of David’s most notable fights with his classmates is staged by director Robert Mandel in the communal shower.

Some of his classmates, the movie’s privileged young men, are introduced as the plot develops. They are the third, fourth, or even fifth generation of victorious White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who feel an immense need to uphold the family name. It’s a lose-lose situation for a child from money like Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon). If he fails, he will let the family down, but if he succeeds, it will be due to his family’s influence.

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In the first scene, David confronts a bully in Scranton who has used an anti-Jewish slur. It’s a false start that makes us think he’ll defend himself at St. Matthews. Nonetheless, he hopes to enrol at Harvard and gain admission. He impresses everyone he meets, even a sparkly gorgeous student (Amy Locane) from a local ladies’ prep school, by hiding his Jewish star neck chain in a Band-Aid box. When the truth is out, it’s as though David suddenly grew horns in the eyes of his erstwhile fans.

Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon), the youngster David replaces, is initially resentful of him, but the two become friends, and Dillon becomes David’s primary blocker on the field. However, Dillon’s downward spiral at David’s hands appears to continue with him losing his job on the squad. At a nearby school, David meets and falls for Sally (Amy Locane).

Charlie is furious upon learning this. Dillon learns about David’s faith after overhearing some drunken conversation at an alum party, and then he organizes the other students to make David’s life as unpleasant as possible. David continues to fight. Even though it’s evident that Sally has a crush on him, he loses her in the process.

Taking the bullying to a new level, Dillon falsely accuses David of cheating on a final test and takes advantage of the anti-Semitism within the school’s honour system enforcement committee to get his way. As David’s expulsion from school seems inevitable, a third student comes forward with the truth, and it is he, not Dillon, who ultimately decides to leave.

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Greene is aware that the authorities at St. Matthew’s are not keeping him in school out of any sense of benevolence but rather because they value a great quarterback more than they love protecting their school’s ethnic purity. Greene eventually tells the principal that he plans to exploit the school’s success with him in football as leverage to get admission to a top-tier academic institution.

The script by Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan puts David in several engaging and unusual predicaments. Given that a crucial game is scheduled for the Jewish New Year, what should he do? Chris Reece (Chris O’Donnell), David’s roommate and buddy, is upset with him for not disclosing his identity. David observes that the topic of Chris’s faith has never come up, either. Chris exclaims, “That’s different,” and the film agrees. The film’s climax leads to a moderately unexpected conclusion that might pose a serious ethical dilemma for protagonist David.

This worthwhile but one-sided investigation of anti-semitism in a setting of broad lawns and narrow minds is kept afloat by Fraser’s performance, which is one of quiet force and lovely resolve that is not at all stereotyped. The characters and the talented young actors who portray them are so affluent and privileged that they could have been plucked straight from “Dead Poets Society.” Randall Batinkoff, as the football team captain, and Chris O’Donnell, in a typical nice-guy part, are two talented young performers doing their best to bring life to the setting. Zeljko Ivanek does, too, playing up his portrayal of a sadistic French professor in a bow tie with relish.

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Trite as it is, the film succeeds in demonstrating how far people will go to fit in with their friends, no matter the cost to themselves, and in revealing the mindless stupidity at the core of racism.

School Ties: Movie Info

Genre: Drama

School Ties: Cast

  • Brendan Fraser: David Greene
  • Matt Damon: Charlie Dillon
  • Chris O’Donnell: Chris Reece
  • Randall Batinkoff: Rip Van Kelt
  • Andrew Lowery: ‘Mack’ McGivern
  • Cole Hauser: Jack Connors
  • Ben Affleck: Chesty Smith
  • Anthony Rapp: Richard ‘McGoo’ Collins
  • Amy Locane: Sally Wheeler
  • Peter Donat: Headmaster Dr. Bartram
  • Zeljko Ivanek: Mr. Cleary
  • Kevin Tighe: Coach McDevitt
  • Michael Higgins: Mr. Gierasch
  • Ed Lauter: Alan Greene
  • Peter McRobbie: Chaplain
  • John Cunningham: Grayson Dillon
  • Elizabeth Franz: Jane Dillon
  • Matt Hofherr: Gray Dillon

School Ties: Crew

  • Director: Robert Mandel              
  • Story & Screenplay: Dick Wolf
  • Screenplay: Darryl Ponicsan        
  • Producer: Stanley R. Jaffe, Sherry Lansing
  • Executive Producer: Danton Rissner
  • Associate Producer: Michael Tadross      
  • Music: Maurice Jarre     
  • Cinematography: Freddie Francis
  • Editing: Jacqueline Cambas, Jerry Greenberg       
  • Casting: Lisa Beach, Patricia McCorkle                    
  • Costume Design: Ann Roth         

School Ties: Other Info

  • Runtime: 1h 47m
  • Box Office (Gross USA): $12.5M
  • Distributor: Paramount Pictures
  • Production Co: Paramount Pictures
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