Sleepers is a powerfully acted revenge flick.
It starts out in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of west side Manhattan
in the mid-1960s. Four boys, Michael (Brad Renfro), Shakes (Joe Perrino), John
(Geoff Wigdor) and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), form a strong and lasting bond of
friendship that stabilizes them in the midst of violent families in a violent
neighborhood. Robert De Niro portrays Father Bobby, a local priest who is
a friend and confidant to the foursome. The early part of Sleepers plays as
a youth-bonding picture, but then things get turned upside down. A tragic
accident turns a petty crime into tragedy, and sends the four boys upstate to
juvenile hall. At the Wilkinson Home for Boys, the friends discover terror
in the persona of Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon), and three other guards who beat,
torture and mollest the foursome, scarring them for a lifetime. Flash forward
to 1981. John and Tommy (Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup) are now murderous
thugs. Shakes (Jason Patric) has managed to get a job as a newspaper clerk,
and Michael (Brad Pitt) has become an assistant DA. A chance encounter with
Nokes sets the balls rolling in an elaborate scheme for revenge which Michael
has concocted. Barry Levinson does a solid directing job, especially in
the introductory scenes of the boys and their neighborhood. The cinematography
is impressive, varying with the mood of the film.
The performances throughout are first rate, but Robert DeNiro stands out
in his atypical role, as does Dustin Hoffman in a cameo bit as an alcoholic
lawyer. The main problem I had with Sleepers centers on the characters of
John and Tommy. As kids, they're alright, but as adults, they're hardly
sympathetic, and not much better than the evil guards when you think about it.
Yet, the audience is supposed to sympathize with them...and it never quite happens.
Fortunately, there are Jason Patric and Brad Pitt to sympathize with as well,
so the movie's central point is not lost. Still, even if it were, the film is worth seeing
for the acting alone. Add in the starpower, Levinson's direction and some
good visuals, and you've got one heck of a movie.
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