Sleepers Movie Review

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How on earth did Kevin Bacon get top billing in a cast that includes Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Pitt, and Jason Patric -- just for starters? That's just one of the disturbing aspects of Sleepers (and I don't mean that in a bad way), Barry Levinson's new drama/thriller that finally redeems him for the idiocy of Disclosure and Toys.

Based on the extremely controversial novel, Sleepers tells what is purported to be a true story of revenge in Hell's Kitchen in New York City. Four early-teenaged friends (played as adults by Patric, Pitt, Ron Eldard, and Billy Crudup -- who I have to mention just because I like to say "Crudup") are sent to a juvenile center when a prank goes wrong and almost kills a bystander. The brutality that occurs in the center does not need to be expounded upon, but suffice it's very horrible, and that guard Sean Nokes (Bacon) is the baddest of the bad guys.

Flash forward 13 years to 1981, when a very non-reformed John and Tommy (Eldard and Crudup) run into Nokes in a neighborhood bar, and, on the spot, shoot him 6 times in front of 4 witnesses. When it goes to trial, a now-assistant D.A. Michael (Pitt) takes the case and decides it's time for payback to everyone from the bad-old days at the center.

Working with attorney Danny Snyder (Hoffman), their old neighborhood priest (De Niro), old pal Carol (Minnie Driver), and newsman-in-training "Shakes" (Patric), Michael constructs an intricate plan to get the guys off the hook and bring down the juvenile center in the process -- by losing the case he is prosecuting.

If you've seen GoodFellas, you know what you're in for -- an overly-narrated epic saga about growing up in New York and the consequences of events that start when you're just a kid. And just like Scorsese, Levinson lays on the narration like butter on pancakes (all via Patric), and this gets old, fast.

But the point is that Sleepers is a very powerful story, and you never really notice that it's 2 1/2 hours long. The performances are universally good (although Eldard and Crudup basically have no lines), and seeing Dustin Hoffman as a long-haired alcoholic/failed attorney is quite a treat. De Niro is excellent in showing his inner turmoil over whether or not to lie on the witness stand, and the kids (who I don't feel like naming right now) all pull off their parts just fine.

Sleepers has its share of technical goofs, like a whole lot of black-and-white flashbacks, slow-motion, fast-motion, surreal-motion, and other camera tricks that really detract from the story and don't belong here. Also in question is a really rotten score and a questionable choice of background "period" songs -- and you can blame veteran composer John Williams, if you can believe that.

Oh well, at least it's a very solid story that leaves you wondering... did it really happen? As for the moral of this little tale? This is all I can figure: Two wrongs don't make a right, but maybe 150 wrongs do. They might be right about that.

A victory celebration -- with every candle in New York burning on this table.

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nkorepal's picture

nkorepal

The movie sleepers is a very powerful one. The theme, screenplay, acting, storyline is topclass. The subject in 1986 was of course controversial as it remains now. One can have doubts over it being controversial, but no one deny that it is contemporary and very relevent.

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Sleepers Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1996

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