Will is in his last year at the Carolina Military Institute in Charleston. Fitting in with the group has not been an easy task for this flinty individualist. But thanks to the support of his roommates Mark, an Italian; Pig, a muscleman; and Tradd, an effete fellow trying very hard to prove himself to his military dad Will has survived the institute's rigorous tests.
Bear, a cigar-chomping colonel, respects Will's moral fiber and asks him unofficially to look after Pearce, the institute's first black cadet. He is worried that upperclassmen might harm the newcomer during hazing sessions. While Will watches over Pearce, Poteete, a chubby plebe, is perceived by older cadets as a crybaby. Following this unfortunate fellow's mental breakdown and untimely death, Will begins investigating a secret society called The Ten. This is an elite force whose existence has long been rumored but never proven. Their goal: to drive out plebes who fail to measure up to their high standards of "purity" including racial purity.
The Lords of Discipline has been adapted for the screen from a novel by Pat Conroy. Writers Thomas Pope and Lloyd Fonvielle accentuate the story's suspense-ridden duel between conflicting ideals of manhood. Conroy, who also explored this theme in The Great Santini, compels us to take a hard look at the military mystique of honor, loyalty and discipline. English director Frac Roddam (Quadrophenia) proves equal to the challenge. He draws considerable emotional charges out of Will's clash with The Ten and celebrates the guts it takes for him to blow the whistle on corruption within the institute.
David Keith brings the main character to live with just the right mix of idealism and bravado. His relationship with Bear (Robert Prosky) offers good insight into the meaning of mentorship. His bonds with his roommates, played by Rick Rossovich, John Lavachielli and Mitchell Lichtenstein, reveal the values of friendship. Boxer Mark Breland's debut as Pearce is a strong performance demonstrating the extra pressures faced by blacks in all-white institutions.
In light of all the attention given to the military in the past five years, this film presents another side of the standard of manliness fashioned under the rigors of discipline. Along with The Great Santini, An Officer and a Gentlemen, and Taps, it offers substantial food for thought.