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on April 8, 2002
SLEEPERS

(USA - 1996)

Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Super 35)
Theatrical soundtracks: Dolby Digital / DTS / SDDS

By virtue of its all-star cast, handsome production values and solemn subject matter, Barry Levinson's SLEEPERS was clearly intended as a Major Motion Picture from the outset. Based on the harrowing true-life bestseller by journalist Lorenzo Carcaterra - first published in 1995 - book and film describe the appalling fate of four Hell's Kitchen kids (played as children by Joe Perrino, Brad Renfro, Geoffrey Wigdor and Jonathan Tucker) who, in 1967, were sentenced to confinement in the 'Wilkinson Home for Boys' following a near-fatal accident involving a hot dog vending machine which they had stolen as a prank. Inside the reformatory, all four boys are sexually and emotionally abused by a group of sadistic guards led by the sinister Nokes (Kevin Bacon at his slimiest). More than a decade later, traumatized by their experiences, two of the now grown-up boys (Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup) corner Nokes unexpectedly in a local diner and murder him in cold blood. The other members of the group - one a prosecuting attorney (Brad Pitt), the other an aspiring writer and journalist (Jason Patric) - formulate a daring plan to have their friends acquitted, expiose the reformatory's dark secrets, and take revenge on their abusers...

Such an extraordinary tale was always going to be controversial, and so it proved. Upon release, book and film drew immediate fire from critics who accused author and filmmakers of embellishment and exaggeration, since no records could be found to prove that the trial depicted in the film ever took place within the Manhattan district, or that the Wilkinson Home for Boys ever existed - even though Carcaterra's book (and Levinson's script) makes it clear that most of the names, dates and locations have been changed or fictionalized to protect those involved, and that the records of all children held in institutions like Wilkinson are routinely deleted after seven years. Further scandal ensued when the movie ignited protests from those who believed the story drew unfortunate parallels between pedophilia and homosexuality, thereby reinforcing the worst kind of homophobic stereotype. The point is certainly valid, given Hollywood's shameful mistreatment of gay themes and characters over the years, but SLEEPERS doesn't seek to draw any kind of parallels, unconsciously or otherwise, merely to recreate events described in Carcaterra's book. Besides, monsters are monsters, whoever their victims may be.

As a movie, SLEEPERS is competent, briskly paced, and beautifully acted by a dream cast of old pro's (including Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman in key roles) and a new generation of rising stars. It's an ensemble piece, and the lack of grandstanding - in favor of narrative momentum - is admirable. But while the film is consistently intelligent and engaging, it's drawbacks are significant: The kids are terrific, especially Perrino, but the adults are burdened by the gravity of the subject matter, and Patric's sombre narration seems a little too laidback at times, lacking warmth or even genuine emotion, while John Williams' rambling score clashes resolutely with the film's epic visual sweep. Also, for obvious reasons, the moviemakers were unable to depict the kind of sexual atrocities outlined in the original book, with unfortunate consequences: Here, Nokes' murder seems more like the result of a petulant outburst by a couple of thugs, rather than the inevitable outcome of horrendous physical abuse. And during the subsequent trial, it defies belief that the prosecution's key witness - a former guard at Wilkinson - would incriminate himself so readily on the stand, as depicted here. That said, however, the movie is still a worthwhile entry, but the book is better.
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on August 27, 2001
This is a film that will stick in the mind of anyone who see's it. Jason Patric gives an excelent performance as Lorenzo, the main character and narrator, and Brad Pitt shows his usual class as Michael, the brains behind the manipulation of the law. Robert De Niro's flawless portrayal of Father Bobby is simply brilliant, and is one of the key's to this film's excellence. The young actors are every bit as good as their adult counterparts, with gripping performances from Joseph Perrino, Brad Renfro, Geoffrey Wigdor, and Jonathan Tucker. This film will shock you with its insight of boys' institution's amd the horror that these young boys were subjected too. If this story is indeed true, which we will never know for sure, then it shows us the brutality hiden deep in the concience of the guards, and in the fear of the victims. The story revolves around four friends from the town of Hells Kitchen, who pull a prank on a street vendor which goes wrong and they end up killing a man. The four are sentenced to time in "The Wilkinson Home For Boys" where they are subjected to routine sexual assaults by the very people supposed to look after them (Kevin Bacon, Terry Kinney). Two of the boys become hardened criminals, and upon seein 'Nokes'(Bacon) in their local bar they shoot him dead. From here the film becomes a legal drama, whereby the other two of the boys work to help their friends get away with their act of revenge. This hardhitting drama is one which you will not forget, and will want to watch again and again.
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on October 11, 2003
With a gripping story, augmented by the moral and ethical dilemmas of a lawyer, a journalist, and a priest, Barry Levinson's SLEEPERS is heart-pounding drama at its finest. Set in New York's Hell's Kitchen--with all of its subsequent turbulence and socioeconomic dysfunction--this film tells the story of four boys, four lifelong pals, who are sadistically brutalized in a reform school and carry the scars into their adult lives.
It comes as no surprise that two of the four embark on a problematic life of crime; it comes as even less of a surprise that when a former reform school guard is seen eating in a diner the two men extract a brutal and bloody revenge.
At this point SLEEPERS embarks on a breathless course of twists and turns, with one underlying, consistent theme: the unbroken bond of friendship. With their friends on trial for murder, the other two men, a prosecuting attorney (Brad Pitt) and a journalist (Jason Patric) put their careers and reputations on the line to exonerate the defendants--who are indeed guilty of murder--and to malign the former guard who was killed. The stage is set for courtroom drama that is literally spellbinding.
Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, and Minnie Driver are exceptional in this film, but the cast is trumped by two "oldtimers," Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. Hoffman plays an alcoholic defense attorney in over his head for the trial, while De Niro--as a loving priest who has been a father figure to all four of the boys--faces a titanic decision as he is called to testify as an important witness. The acting is compelling and absorbing, and so is the story. SLEEPERS is about as good as a drama can get.
--D. Mikels
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on November 27, 2004
I'm not going to go into the details of this movie much. From reading the reviews on this site, you either like it, or you don't. Frankly, I very seldom like any movie made in the last 20 years or so...but this one really grabbed me and kept my attention. All of the actors came across as very believable characters...something sorely lacking in most movies. The boys, especially, played their parts wonderfully.

The transfer of the film was great...clear, with little grain or other problems. About my only complaint in this area would be the inconsistent sound level. Some sound effects, such as the screaming subway train, would be speaker-rattling with the volume at the proper level for the dialogue.

The worst problem with this DVD, however, is the fact that it is a "flipper". For a movie of only 2-1/2 hours, this is inexcusable. Not only that, the transitions for the end of one side and the beginning of the other are extremely abrupt. Though I can't remember from seeing the movie in the theatre, it certainly appears something was truncated.

4 stars for the movie, 4 for the transfer, 1 for the DVD.
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on February 27, 2014
The Star power in Sleepers is fantastic. Kevin Bacon plays a most excellent bad man..Reform School for boy's is no place to end up at any time. The boys get their justice with the help of a priest and his buddies..But their lives will never be the same.
I enjoyed the movie very much. Sleepers will bring out all your emotions.
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on March 3, 2014
The guy who wrote this wrote the book "Apaches", which is the best book about Cops (fiction) Ive ever read. This story with its magnificent cast has to be seen to be believed. I don't run over the plot in detail in my reviews...you can get that elsewhere. If you want a story (for adults) thats great Drama, Suspense and is WAY more than just about revenge and justice, this is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. Good, Evil, Cause and effect and how friends can and often do come together to heal each other and kick ass when needed...all here. DeNiro as the Priest who follows young neighborhood boys into manhood and never stops ministering to them the way only he can....(If DeNiro had become a priest, I think he would have been just like this character) is at his best here as well as Brad Pitt and Kevin Bacon. Bacon isn't a likeable guy in this but he does a fantastic job pulling it off. Recommended.
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on November 15, 2002
Rare is a movie that completely holds your attention for 2 1/2 hours but Sleepers is that movie. Played out by an exceptional ensemble cast (Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Renfro), it tells the tale of four young Hell's Kitchen boys who after pulling a seamingly harmless prank, are sent to a juvenile facility where they face unspeakable horrors at the hands of ther wardens. This trauma follows 2 of the boys into adulthood where they enter a life of crime. When they take their revenge on a particularly sadistic guard, it's up to the other boys, along with a childhood gal pal and a loving priest to save them. Every performance in this movie makes an indelible impression but the standouts are Deniro as Father Bobby, Frank Medrano as neighborhhod shopowner Fatman, Minnie Driver as Carol and Geoffrey Wigdor as young John. I watch this movie every November(it feels like a Fall time movie) and it never fails to amaze me. It is tense, heartwrenching, touching and at times funny. However the final 5 minutes always hit me where it hurts. When I think of how those kids were robbed of a normal life it sickens me. Sleepers is a phenomenal film that will leave a deep impression.
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on December 6, 2015
As a screenwriter, I know how it is to go undercover in order to write a great story. It feels like this writer definitely lived it. The story feels like the core is authentic. Incredible movie. Kevin Bacon is unbelievably great
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on November 26, 2015
I couldn't believe that I'd never seen this film. It's got an amazing cast and a story line like no other. If you're a fan of DeNiro or the several other big names, this is a great way to see them do what they do best.
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on June 13, 2013
This is a good movie about four young boys who get in trouble, get locked up, and pay a very high price for their mistake at the hand of four "disturbed" corrections officers. When the boys grow up, opportunity knocks for them to get revenge and they do. I heard it is a true story, and the place they get locked up in did exist in New York State at one time. True or not, it is worth sitting down and watching for the two hours of your life that you will never get back.
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