Written by Noah Jubelirer and Jeffrey Bloom
Directed by Charles Braverman
The first time I saw Brotherhood of Justice, I was sure it had been one of those after-school specials that were often on, trying to moralize to teenagers and pre-teens who were often home alone after their schoolday was over. What’s given it staying power over the years is the cast of then-unknowns including Keanu Reeves, Kiefer Sutherland, and Billy Zane.
At Santa Lucia High School, there have been problems with vandalism. Derek (portrayed by Keanu Reeves) is a star athlete and highly regarded member of the student council. After the latest attack, Derek gets a group of his teammates together. Their intention at first is just to set an example in the school and keep them from having to bring in police officers. However, as time goes by, things become complicated.
Derek and his friends dub themselves “The Brotherhood of Justice”. Their first target is an angel dust dealer on a night when he’s having a party. The clues are also there that Derek’s younger brother, Willie (portrayed by Danny Nucci), is involved with drugs and soon the Brotherhood is targeting the student who is supplying him.
As the boys make a list of who they think deserves their brand of justice, Derek tries to keep them restrained. Some of the names his friends come up with are iffy, but eventually, exacting retribution seems to get into his blood as well. They begin singling out not just those who are troublemakers in the school, but also fellow students who they feel are one up on them. In one case, it’s a kid they know who ratted out one of the boys for cheating on his final and who they think gets too much attention from the girls.
Unfortunately, there’s also some tension between Derek and a fellow student named Victor (portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland), centering around Derek’s girlfriend, Christy (portrayed by Lori Loughlin). Victor’s a bit on the quiet and shy side, but otherwise harmless. Derek’s actions and inattentiveness as well as their different life situations are pushing Christy away and Victor just happens to be around. There’s no overt romance between them during the film, but there are plenty of indications that it might lead to that eventually.
Brotherhood of Justice is a cautionary tale of what happens when people take the law into their own hands. The vigilantes in the high school begin defining right and wrong by their own standards rather than just the letter of the law. Once they feel they have a degree of power behind them, they seem to feel anyone who they suspect of something is automatically guilty and deserving of punishment. Although it might seem in the beginning like they are to be cheered, by the end of the film it’s something entirely different.
I named some actors who were in this and thankfully for the most part their acting abilities have grown since then. Brotherhood of Justice is good for young aspiring actors to watch and feel that even as bad as they are there’s always room to learn and grow and become successful. Keanu Reeves is still too much the wide-eyed surfer dude. I have never been impressed with him as an actor and here he’s a lot like his character in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I could also see this as Officer Jack from Speed in high school – maybe he learned something and reformed?
Keifer Sutherland seems to hardly emote at all, quite the opposite of his performance as Jack Bauer on 24. The times he’s uneasy seem to be genuine as he doesn’t yet look comfortable in front of the camera. He does have those early good looks that made him something of a matinee idol once he was cast in Young Guns, but his acting ability has come a long way in the ensuing years.
I was surprised to learn this was based on actual events which took place at a high school in Texas, although there was a coach involved who directly backed the vigilantes rather than a principal whose words, once taken to heart by the boys, took on new meaning. It explains a lot of the theme of bias against minorities running through the school as much as it does.
Brotherhood of Justice would have long ago faded into oblivion were it not for the later success of the stars. I’m not sure this is something they look back on with pride. To me, it comes off as a hokey, preachy after-school special that misses the mark because it tries too hard to make its point rather than being subtle.
Categories: Movie Reviews