Brendan Fraser may be making waves with his recent comeback, but 1992’s School Ties proves he was a capable actor with impressive dramatic range. Robert Mandel’s look at institutionalized bigotry sadly hasn’t aged a day in thirty years as the film is just as powerful and relevant today. Now on Blu-ray from Imprint films, this handsome period film scores a respectable transfer with strong audio, and a welcome collection of bonus features. Recommended.
"We judge ourselves here by the highest standards."
David Green (Brendan Fraser) comes from the working-class town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has just been accepted to the elite St. Matthew’s Catholic in Massachusets preschool on a football scholarship. The school wants a championship, so they recruited him for his senior year to get the job done. Everything is fine, except David is Jewish and the locals don’t take long to make their feelings known about his kind - only they don’t know he’s Jewish. But secrets don’t stay secret for long. When he along with fellow classmate Charlie Dillion (Matt Damon) is accused of cheating, David’s classmates will have to decide their guilt or innocence and their fate at the school.
There have been many films made over the decades about institutionalized racism and bigotry and unfortunately, they remain relevant. Misguided and hateful prejudices have a bad habit of festering and holding on long enough to rear their ugly heads again and again making them ripe topics for feature films. You don’t have to sign into Twitter, or any other social media platform, to see that antisemitism and racism are still a problem across the globe. In 1992, Robert Mandel’s School Ties took aim at the institutionalized bigotry within the elite prep school system that often gatekeeps entry to ivy league universities like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. And with a sharp script and some great performances, the film is mostly successful.
Many will think of popular fan-favorite flicks like Encino Man or The Mummy franchise when seeing Fraser’s name attached to this film. With his recent career resurgence and impressive turn in The Whale, it’s a great time to come back to this film as a reminder that Brendan always had it in him. His potential award accolades this year really shouldn’t be a surprise. As David, he delivers a truly soulful performance. He stands alongside other up-and-coming actors like Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Cole Hauser, and Anthony Rapp who all deliver impressive performances. If you look real close you can also spot Batfleck in there too, but he’s given little to do beyond filling the background with his tall frame. Other memorable turns come from Peter Donat, Kevin Tighe, and Zeljko Ivanek as the heads of the school who are all too willing to turn a blind eye to the problems within their institution.
While this is a great film, it’s not perfect. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and so are some great films. School Ties has the best of intentions detailing systemic issues, but it also overplays its cards. David is a wonderful character, but as written in Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan’s screenplay, he’s almost too pure and perfect. We see him early on as someone ready and willing to use his fists to protect his honor, but that trait never really comes out again. He’s never the one to get himself into trouble. Then there’s the film’s final act. Using the school’s “Honor Code” as a springboard, the film essentially turns into a rough and rushed version of 12 Angry Men attempting to prove guilt or innocence of cheating based on prejudice alone and there aren't any surprises about which way that verdict goes.
When I was a kid it felt like School Ties was always on cable. One or another movie channel was sure to have it on. Because I saw it so often, it’s not a movie I really looked back on in the last twenty years, so I was ready to check it out for this review. I’m happy to see that the film still holds up. It has some flaws here and there, but overall it’s a well-meaning thoughtful film with a great cast. It’s pretty wild to see these young actors we’ve seen grow into mega-stars and franchise leads looking so hungry to prove themselves. Some have stuck around, some have faded a little, some have come roaring back, and some became Batman and married Jennifer Lopez. Ultimately School Ties is a strong, well-executed film that sticks the landing more often than it stumbles.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
School Ties graduates to Blu-ray for the first time with a new single-disc release from Viavision’s Imprint Films label. Pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a clear case with slipcase artwork with spine number 188. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
For fans looking forward to this film’s Blu-ray premiere, School Ties arrives with an overall decent 1.78:1 1080p Transfer. Well-detailed with an intact but prominent grain structure, the transfer also shows its age as it doesn’t appear to be a recent scan. The image has a crispy quality indicative of an older master complete with some edge enhancement. Where close-ups, middle shots, and some outdoor sequences can look quite good, they also don’t fully come together. There’s some slight banding on some tight textures and image depth is a bit restrained where black levels never quite resolve sticking preciously close to crush territory. Primaries are in good shape with bright bold reds, blues, yellows, and overall healthy human skin tones. Film elements are also relatively clean without issues. This is an overall good transfer, but it definitely could use some TLC with a fresh new scan.
On the audio front, you can choose from a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track or an LPCM 2.0 track. Both are excellent in their own ways so it comes down to dealer’s choice. For most of this viewing, I rolled with the 5.1 track and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Even in a stuffy location like a prep school where things are kept front/center, there was still plenty of surround channel activity emanating from busy hallways, classrooms, football games, and dining halls. Dialog is clean and clear for both tracks and Maurice Jarre’s beautiful score gets plenty of attention. No hiss or age-related issues to report.
On the bonus features front, the extras are mostly archival interviews with various cast and crew during the press circuit when the film was released in 1992. Damon, Fraser, O’Donnell, and Robert Mandel all contribute some interesting points to these interviews. Again, it’s really wild seeing these actors so young - kinda makes me feel old realizing I was ten when this movie hit theaters. On the new extras front, there is a solid audio commentary featuring Jim Hemphill that’s well worth giving a listen.
School Ties was an effective and thoughtful film that unfortunately flopped at the box office. Now 30 years later, we’re given a worthy opportunity to reconnect with this precinct film thanks to a new Blu-ray release from Imprint Films. The performances are strong and the themes are powerful. Any shortfalls in the film itself can easily be overlooked given how much it accomplishes. With a respectable transfer, two solid audio options, and a fine collection of bonus features, it’s a good time to check back in with School Ties. Recommended