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Customer Review

125 of 140 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solemn drama gets the all-star treatment, April 8, 2002
This review is from: Sleepers (DVD)

(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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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 20, 2008 5:50:43 PM PST
Nina G says:
This review was concise and lets a buyer know why he does nor does not want to buy the film. Great review!

Posted on Dec 6, 2010 10:23:01 AM PST
Entertainment is the name of the game and
the accuracy of the story shouldn't really be
an issue. I was very entertained by this well
done film. The subject matter is engrossing
(real or not) and the cast and acting definitely
above average. The thugs outburst was spurred
by their abuse from Nokes and was in line with
their criminal bet, it should have
been petulant! Books ARE generally better than
the films they spawn. A good film none-the-less.

Posted on Feb 11, 2013 4:15:10 PM PST
"unfortunate parallels between pedophilia and homosexuality"?? Don't you mean truthful parallels? It is well known that almost all pedophiliacs are homosexuals. The Boy Scouts have kept out prospective homosexual leaders over the years because when a boy was molested by a Scout leader, it was always by a homosexual man. Pedophilia is merely a type of homosexuality. It is time people should speak the truth and drop this politically correct nonsense that prevents one from speaking out. So the homosexual "community" won't like it, so the truth often hurts. It is what it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2013 11:03:06 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 12, 2013 11:04:07 AM PST
Libretio says:
"...the truth often hurts. It is what it is."

And you are what you are - a miserable bigot who twists the truth to fit your own preconceived notions. I've already paid you far too much attention by even responding to this drivel, and if you respond in kind, with more assertions of a similar nature, I will report your nasty dribblings to the moderators.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2013 5:54:43 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 15, 2013 5:55:32 PM PST
Your comment is not about the movie, it's about your personal stand on pedophilia & homosexuality. It doesn't add to the discussion to help me decide whether to watch the movie!

Posted on Jun 3, 2013 7:25:46 PM PDT
cc booklover says:
by your very well written review, i assume you have read the book. i would like to know if the book is "too" graphic? I found the movie disturbing, as most would with such a subject matter, but i enjoyed it. i'd like to read the book, but if it is too graphic and detailed, i can't. any help here?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2013 5:22:28 AM PDT
Libretio says:
It's a l-o-o-o-n-g time since I read the book, but I recall that the author described the horrors without revelling in them. That said, the horrors are extremely unpleasant, as you can imagine, so your reaction to the details will depend on your own sensitivities to such material.

But these events constitute only a small part of the overall narrative. It's a tough read, to be sure, but also a rewarding one. Give it a try. And if it becomes too much, you can always set it aside and go back to it if (when) you feel up it. Good luck!

Posted on Jul 20, 2013 3:21:00 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 20, 2013 4:06:01 AM PDT]

Posted on Aug 17, 2013 2:16:27 PM PDT
I appreciated your comments Libretio, but I would have rated it 5 stars. On your point about the collapse on the stand of the guard brought in seemingly as a character witness for the slain abuser, my wife and I accepted it, although we have discussed that scene several times at length, nearly every time we've seen the movie. Although one could say, with the huge amount of plot elements and development, perhaps the scene was just cut too much to allow Dustin Hoffman to break him so quickly on the stand. Me, I think he came in already broken, and it was just a nudge needed to get him to lose control. He had tried to remake his life, it is mentioned that he was married with a son, but he had lost both wife and son. (this parallels the theme of the protagonists throughout, that none of them were ever able again to form successful relationships.) Why?, it is not clear but highly suggestive. An Irish Catholic, he clutches his rosary's crucifix: you feel it will dig into his hands. He seems to have been seeking absolution he just cannot get. But he splits open like a melon when Hoffman asks him about HIS son: would you, DID you leave your boy ever alone with Bacon?? We don't learn if he never did, because he realized in horror that he COULDN'T, or even worse, that HE DID leave his boy alone with Bacon. Either way, he realized he could not, or he actually did, leave his son with Bacon, either way is a disaster. And now, his wife has left him with the boy. . . .suggestive again. Did she leave because of abuse? Did she leave because the witness-guard also is incapable of real relationships, or perhaps even a threat to his own son?

This man was so tightly wrapped, coming into the courtroom, and so much in denial that the testimony would be anything other than words of praise for Kevin Bacon, that he unravels like taking the cover off a golf ball.

The final thing to think about, again all suggested but not explicit in the movie, was the point about how Brad Pitt planned it all. He knew his victims. He had studied them for 14 years. He had files on each one, and knew exactly where to strike. He said earlier to Jason Patrick that: this is not exactly how I planned it, but we must seize the moment given. Look at the other guards he targeted, and the means of punishment meted out: in their own way each trap was set for that precise victim, just as it was for the Count of Monte Cristo, Brad Pitt's model for vengeance.

Anyway, if you think this scene is unconvincing, and this is the reason you deprived it of a star Libretio, please reconsider. Brad Pitt set the perfect trap for the perfect victim, as he did in each other case except Bacon, and each responded and became ensnared as planned.

This is a brilliant movie, with a dozen perfect performances: 5 star.
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