|SLEEPERS (director/writer: Barry Levinson; screenwriter: from the non-fiction book by Lorenzo Carcaterra; cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus; editor: Stu Linder; music: John Williams; cast: Brad Pitt (Michael), Jason Patrick (Lorenzo/Shakes), Joe Perrino (Shakes as a kid), Brad Pitt (Michael), Brad Renfro (Michael as a kid), Ron Eldard (John), Geoff Wigdor (John as a kid), Billy Crudup (Tommy), Jonathan Tucker (Tommy as a kid), Kevin Bacon (Sean Nokes), Dustin Hoffman (Danny Syder), Minnie Driver (Carol), Robert DeNiro (Father Bobby), Vittorio Gassman (King Benny), Wendell Pierce (Black Mobster), Terry Kinney (Ferguson, Guard), Bruno Kirby (Shakes' Father), Aida Turturro (Crime Witness), Frank Medrano (Fat Mancho), George Georgiadis (Hot Dog Vendor); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Peter Giuliano; Warner Bros.; 1996)|
|"It plays out as a stylish and
lurid amoral vigilante thriller, one that
never earns the viewer's confidence that this
is the real thing."
by Dennis Schwartz
atmospheric urban jungle film about lasting friendship
and of getting away with the murder of a sadistic
prison guard. The revenge film, appealing to a wide
audience, tells us the retribution was justified, as
it asks us to accept a questionable belief that no
religion or society can ethically justify. It's based
on the controversial semi-autobiographical book by Lorenzo
Carcaterra that was artfully adapted
to the screen by the talented writer-director Barry
Levinson ("Diner"/"Rain Man"/"Tin Men").
Supposedly it's based on a true story, but seems more
like pulp fiction. It plays out as a stylish and lurid
amoral vigilante thriller, one that never earns the
viewer's confidence that this is the real thing. The
big-time cast includes Dustin Hoffman, in a
small but meaningful role, as an alcoholic
has-been lawyer, and Robert
DeNiro, as a kind
fatherly priest. Both stars give fine performances,
greatly uplifting the film.
Patrick was one of the four abused imprisoned teens
the story is about, who is now a hot-shot NYC reporter
narrating the film and serves as the only voice of
the summer of 1966, four adolescents, about 14, are
brought up in an environment influenced by both
gangsters and priests in NYC's Hell's Kitchen slum.
The boys -- Lorenzo, nicknamed Shakes (Joe Perrino),
Michael (Brad Renfro), John (Geoff Wigdor) and Tommy
(Jonathan Tucker) -- are mentored by the caring
neighborhood priest, Father Bobby (Robert
DeNiro). The boys are
also influenced by the local mob boss and restaurant
owner King Benny (Vittorio Gassman), who
employs them over the summer to pay out bribe money to
crooked cops. In 1967, after one of their pranks
turned ugly when played on a volatile old Greek-street
vendor of hot dogs (George Georgiadis), the teens
are arrested and at their trial receive at least 9
months jail time in an upstate NY reform school (Wilkinson
Home for Boys). While in prison, they are
relentlessly beaten and raped. The worst culprit of
the four abusive guards is the violent
pedophile chief guard Nokes (Kevin Bacon).
The second part of the film follows the four as adults, in the fall of 1981, almost fifteen years after their reform school release. Shakes (Jason Patric) is a journalist and Michael (Brad Pitt) an assistant D.A.. But the other two boys, John (Ron Eldard) and Tommy (Billy Crudup), become gangsters.
When by chance John and Tommy run into Nokes in a
bar, they impulsively shoot him in front
of witnesses inside the bar and are arrested. Michael
and Shakes come to the rescue of their old friends.
Michael talks his way into prosecuting
their case and will do his best to lose, while Shakes
hires the drug-addict Danny Snyder (Dustin
Hoffman) as defense counsel and gets Father Bobby
to lie under oath by supplying the accused with a
false alibi for the time of the killings. Meanwhile
all the witnesses are too scared to testify.
The film turns on the moral dilemma of
believing the revenge killing was justified.
Problems for the veracity of the story arose when no
one, including investigative reporters looking into
the story, could find evidence such incidents ever
happened. I thought it was more likely bogus than
true, but the unimaginable film was entertaining and
REVIEWED ON 4/24/2015 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ