Sleepers (1996)

When friendship runs deeper than blood

Two gangsters seek revenge on the state jail worker who during their stay at a youth prison sexually abused them. A sensational court hearing takes place to charge him for the crimes.

***Justifiable execution and justifiable lying***
“Sleepers” (1991) starts out as a coming-of-age film about four boys in 1966-1967 from Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, and then morphs into a juvenile prison picture, which covers the first hour. The rest of the movie is a crime tragedy turned courtroom drama, taking place 13 years later in the early 80s. Jason Patric plays the adult version of Shakes, the main protagonist and narrator, while Brad Pitt plays his attorney friend, Michael. When their other two buds, John and Tommy, are taken into custody for murder they hatch a plan to get them off for understandable reasons. Robert De Niro plays their Catholic pastor and father-figure while Dustin Hoffman appears as the dubious defense attorney. Kevin Bacon is on hand as a perverse guard at the boys’ reformatory.
In an eye-rolling knee-jerk response, liberal critics have dissed the film as “homophobic” when this isn’t the case at all. For verification, if the victims at the reformatory were girls the baseless criticism wouldn’t even be mentioned. It is not about gender; it is about children and the monstrous abuse of authority for selfish purposes. The film NEVER criticizes what two adults CHOOSE to do behind closed doors.
In tone and theme, “Sleepers” is similar to the heralded “Mystic River” (2003), but more episodic in nature and therefore not as dramatically compelling. Yet it’s a poignant crime drama. Some have panned the movie on the grounds that it justifies revenge murder, but it more clearly supports the idea of just execution when legal authorities have failed and allowed gross corruption to continue.
Another moral issue revolves around lying. Is it ever right to lie for the sake of justice? In other words, is lying ever justifiable? Of course it is; at least on rare occasions. For instance, in the bible the midwives lied to Pharaoh in order to save Hebrew infants and are commended for fearing God (Exodus 1:15-21). Rahab also lied to save the two Hebrew spies in Jericho and her actions are hailed in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith chapter. During WW2, if Nazi authorities came to your door looking for hidden Jews, would you say “Yes, I cannot lie; they are hiding in the attic”? Of course you wouldn’t.
The script by director Barry Levinson was based on a book by Lorenzo Carcaterra, which is supposedly a true story. Although New York authorities have denied its authenticity, they have good reason to do so. Whether or not every jot & tittle is accurate is irrelevant; stories LIKE IT have happened.
The film runs 2 hours, 27 minutes and was shot in New York City & surrounding areas (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Yonkers, Hoboken) and Fairfield Hills Hospital, Newtown, Connecticut (Wilkinson School for Boys). ADDITIONAL CAST: Minnie Driver plays the guys’ friend from their youth while Vittorio Gassman is on hand as a nonchalant mob leader in Hell’s Kitchen.
GRADE: B

Propaganda Films, Baltimore Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures by Barry Levinson, Lorenzo Carcaterra.
Stars: Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Jason Patric.

Genres: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Keywords: child abuse sadistic sexual abuse pastor repayment juvenile prison court case pub court juvenile delinquent child

10/18/1996

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