Sleepers, released in the late 90’s is a chilling story of innocence lost, pedophilia, revenge and redemption. This movie is based on a controversial novel about life in the Hell’s Kitchen( part of Manhattan, New York) in the late 1960’s in the backdrop of Mob(organized crime), Catholic Church, poverty and anguish of it’s blue collar inhabitants.
With a lineup of Super stars like Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Ron Eldard, Minnie Driver, Jason Patric and Billy Crudup, Sleepers is well acted and deftly crafted. This is a story of how a simple prank which went wrong turns into a life changing event for 4 innocent boys (Lorenzo, Michael, John and Tommy) who are best friends. They steal a hot dog vendor’s cart of which they lose control of going down the steps and nearly causes a man’s death. They are found guilty of reckless endangerment and sent to a juvenile reform School( Wilkinson) in upstate New York. There, under the watchful eye of a sadistic guard named Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon), they are subjected to mental, physical, and sexual abuse.
Although their sentences are only for a year, those twelve months fundamentally alter their personalities. Fast forward to 1981 when John and Tommy (Ron Eldrad and Billy Crudup) who have turned into hardened criminals have a chance meeting with Nokes in a restaurant and kill him in cold blood. The ensuing court drama entails Michael(Brad Pitt) an attorney in the D A’s office prosecuting his old friends while at the same time secretly plotting their acquittal. Lorenzo (Jason Patric) who is an aspiring newspaper reporter is helping Michael, along with Father Bobby ( Robert DeNiro) a washed out lawyer ( Dustin Hoffman) and Carol ( Minnie Driver), to turn the trial into a indictment against all the abusive guards, who they tolerated as delinquents 15 years ago at Wilkinson.
The movie’s moral compass is Father Bobby, a Catholic priest who recognizes that friendship and loyalty may require sacrifice of the soul, but doesn’t tread lightly across the line separating what’s legally correct and what’s ethically mandated. In fact, Father Bobby’s dilemma is arguably the most compelling aspect of Sleepers’ in the latter part of the movie. I am a big De Niro fan and this I have to say is one of his best performance.
In fact, De Niro isn’t the only one to turn in a powerful performance. Kevin Bacon as the ruthless, sadistic, pedophile cop is chilling. Ron Eldard, who has few lines to say in the movie, is brilliant. Dustin Hoffman as the lawyer with a substance problem is simply superb. Then there are those intense scenes in the Wilkinson reform school(nothing overly graphic is shown, but much is implied).
I have to caution you, this movie can be really disturbing and traumatizing and can leave a lasting impression.
*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*