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The first thing you need to know about Sleepers is that it's based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra that was allegedly based on a true story. The movie repeats this bogus claim, which was attacked and determined by a wide majority to be misleading. Knowing this, Sleepers can be a problematic movie because it's too neat, too clean, too manipulative in terms of legal justice and dramatic impact to be truly convincing. And yet, with its stellar cast directed by Barry Levinson, the movie succeeds as gripping entertainment, and its tale of complex morality--despite a dubious emphasis on homophobic revenge--is sufficiently provocative. It's about four boys in New York's Hell's Kitchen district who are sent to reform school, where they must endure routine sexual assaults by the sadistic guards. Years after their release, the opportunity for revenge proves irresistible for two of the young men, who must then rely on the other pair of friends (Brad Pitt, Jason Patric), a loyal priest (Robert De Niro), and a shabby lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) to defend them in court. Despite the compelling ambiguities of the story, there's never any doubt about how we're supposed to feel, and the screenplay glosses over the story's most difficult moral dilemmas. And yet, Sleepers grabs your attention and pulls you into its intense story of friendship and the price of loyalty under extreme conditions. The movie's New York settings are vividly authentic, and Minnie Driver makes a strong impression as a long-time friend of the loyal group of guys. --Jeff Shannon
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Top Customer Reviews
I have a strong memory of first viewing Barry Levinson's film of Lorenzo Carcaterra's controversial novel, which the author insisted was autobiographical, despite detractors who have challenged his claim. Regardless, the story of four childhood friends who pull a foolish stunt that changes their lives forever, remains emotionally powerful for the most part, and certainly there's no denying that situations like have happened and will likely continue to happen. The film loses credibility in the second half, but the impression it leaves will stay with you.
The story opens in the 1960s in New York's Hell's Kitchen, which is masterfully re-created. Neighborhood pals Shakes (Joe Perrino), Michael (the tragic Brad Renfro), John (Geoffrey Wigdor) and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) grow up together in a world that is an odd mix of childhood innocence, religion and organized crime. Their ally is Father Robert "Bobby" Carillo (Robert De Niro, who else?) who tries to guide them and encourage them to see beyond Hell's Kitchen. An enjoyable oldies soundtrack adds to the spirit of the story until things change for the worse for the young protagonists. A prank goes terribly wrong, critically injuring an innocent bystander and the boys find themselves sentenced to do time at the Wilkinson's Home For Boys, a juvenile institution where dangerous offenders are housed.Read more ›
Robert De Niro is, well, Robert De Niro - always worth watching. But this is not a Robert De Niro film.
With "Sleepers" you won't just HEAR about past rapes of boys by slimy prison guards. "Sleepers" makes you experience (no male nudity shown, thank you) the Hell's Kitchen of childhood mental and sexual devastation. (I think that Joseph Perrino, the young "Shakes," deserves an Oscar.)
When the movie does a 15 year jump ahead, you are still feeling what they thought they had been able to leave in their past. Major message of the movie - you don't get past your past by trying to avoid it!!!! (That's an exclamation point for each "boy.") The next scene, when John (Ron Eldard) bumps into scumbag rapist former-guard (Kevin Bacon) in a dive diner, shocked me as much as it shocked John. John looking at himself in the bathroom mirror may be the most powerful single event in the movie.
A close second is when narrator "Shakes" gathers up the courage to go visit his father in desperate hopes of telling his own dad what was done to him while in the juvenile prison. His father is just not on the same page, and Shakes closes back up without telling him. Wow. If that scene doesn't move you.......
As an attorney, I particularly liked Dustin Hoffman's defensed attorney come-back (required by awesome character, King Benny). Hoffman's unassuming cross-examination of the only unmurdered rapist guard is one of my favorite courtroom scenes of any movie.
The movie's ending is either a flaw or a masterful choice by director Barry Levinson.Read more ›
However, Levinson has created a masterpiece, and a film that everyone should watch. Sleepers might've not been the most eloquent courtroom drama, and the tactics used might be unrefined, but I absolutely loved it. It showed the consequences of prison guards' sadism, which affected the boys for the rest of their lives.
All the actors give mindblowing performances, with no conceivable weak link. This includes the four child actors, who dominate half of the movie, but obviously don't receive as much press as their older counterparts. These four kids were outstanding in roles that must have been truly harrowing to play, especially the young boy who played John. Even Brad Pitt shows that under the right direction he can be more than a candy face.
Add to this a great score from John Williams, and you will come back to this film time and time again. The DVD has great features too so in all a very worthy purchase.
Given that framework, the controversy surrounding Sleepers makes rating this entry difficult. The film is based on a book (a first-person account by Lorenzo Carcaterra) that purports to be based on a true story, a claim we have to factor in. But numerous critics have thrown a huge shadow of doubt on the truthfulness of this claim, a counter-claim we also have to factor in.
There is no question that Sleepers is a powerfully moving story. It draws you in and never lets you go. It works admirably hard at character development and depth. Few other films succeed at making us feel a certain compassion for two apparently cold-blooded murderers. Or understand why a priest would lie under oath. Or condone a District Attorney's breach of ethics when he takes a case with the intention of losing. Director Barry Levinson's compassionate handling of a very sensitive and complex subject matter is indeed remarkable, matched only by the ensemble cast's performances.
But we have to go back to that question of veracity. Carcaterra stands by his story, and he's pretty much out on a limb alone on that. On the other hand, the critics (and we're not talking here about the literary type) are legion. That naturally makes us lean more towards the doubters' side. But can we say with absolute certainty that they're right? Or that Carcaterra is right, for that matter?
The fact is, that burning question will probably continue to do just that -- burn -- for the rest of our lives. And that is unfortunate.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Truth? Fiction? A mix of both? Who cares, its a great movie and worth having in your collection.Published 4 months ago by Nite Owl
Très bon film que j'achète pour la deuxième fois le premier ne jouait pas bien il était défectueux le jeux des acteurs était excellent.Published 7 months ago by Daniel Mérineau
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