Sleepers (1996) starring Brad Renfro, Brad Pitt, Joseph Perrino, Jason Patric, Jonathan Tucker, Billy Crudup, Geoffrey Wigdor, Ron Eldard, Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Vittorio Gassman, Bruno Kirby, Terry Kinney directed by Barry Levinson Movie Review

Sleepers (1996)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Sleepers starring Brad Renfro, Joseph Perrino, Geoffrey Wigdor and Jonathan Tucker

Hell's Kitchen, smoked Bacon

"Sleepers" is based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra, and supposedly based on a true story, although several groups that have investigated this claim that they have come up with no proof that there is any truth it at. Although this maybe the case, it should not detract from the movie which deals with a very serious issue, that of sexual abuse and with this in mind, the scenes which deal with the sexual abuse have been done in such away that you never see it happening as it is just off camera but you can hear the torture that the boys go through which is enough to make you feel sick.

John, Tommy, Michael, and Shakes are four teenage friends growing up in the streets of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen during 1960s. After pulling a prank that that goes terribly wrong, they find themselves serving time at the Wilkinson School for Boys, where they are repeatedly and sadistically violated and tortured by a set of guards, the most menacing being an evil man by the name of Noles. Fifteen years later, the foursome are still dealing with the emotional repercussions of their abuse. Tommy (Billy Crudup) and John (Ron Eldard) have become criminals, and when they spot Noles in a local bar they get revenge for the atrocities done to them years before. It's up to Shakes (Jason Patric), a low-profile journalist, and Michael (Brad Pitt), a lawyer with the district attorney's office, to save their friends whilst trying to keep the details of their tortured childhood a secret.

Jason Patric and Brad Pitt in Sleepers

"Sleepers" has brilliant performances from all it's leading cast as well as the supporting actors. As there are too many people to mention individually, I have listed them in the section below. What I will say is that Robert De Niro pulls of the best performance as the priest Father Bobby; he is very believable as someone who has experienced life on the wrong side of the tracks but has found a new calling as a priest and in doing so, understands where the friends are coming from.

It is directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) and has done a very good job of dealing with such a sensitive matter. In the wrong hands this film could have become unwatchable with too much violence and graphical sexual abuse. He has manages to keep your attention through out the duration of the film, which is pretty good going as it is 2 hours 21 minutes long. This is partly down to the fact that he doesn't dwell on a shot too long which keeps the film moving as well as that in every scene we learn something more about a character or an important fact to do with the court case.

Something which did surprise me was, that when the Oscars came round, "Sleepers" only got one nomination and that was for "Best Music, Original Dramatic Score", which brings me neatly on to the sound track. The songs which appear in the film are mainly those from the sixties such as "Walk Like a Man" and "Good Vibrations". The score to the film was created by the legendary John Williams and features orchestral pieces which at times seem very threatening but works well as it enhances the story and helps to demonstrate feeling and emotion.

"Sleepers" has been shot over several locations, from the actual streets of Hell's Kitchen to the dark and evil reform school and also into the magnificent court room. Each set has been authentically decked out with period items, as the films spans from the mid 60's to the early 80's.

For a film with such a disturbing story line it is very compelling viewing. This is purely down to the great performances and tasteful direction of the cast and director. This is a film which I have watched numerous times when I want something which is gritty but not mentally challenging. Some of the implied abuse is quite stomach churning but is necessary for you to be able to sympathise with the characters. For me this film rates on a par with "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Murder in the First".