Sleepers (1996)


A group of four friends are sent to a reform school for boys when a prank goes wrong, and suffer brutality and sexual abuse at the hands of the guards. Years later two of them encounter one of their tormentors and summarily execute him, setting in motion a plan to expose those involved.

Sleepers is based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra who claimed that this is a true story. The highly contrived and convenient nature of the plot makes this seem highly unlikely and so the claim actually undermines the story’s credibility rather than vice versa. This is a shame, because it’s actually an interesting spin on the courtroom drama presented by a quality cast. Kevin Bacon once again shows his characteristic bravery in selecting a part that is completely without sympathy and he does a very good job, as does De Niro in a supporting role as a priest with a crisis of conscience. It does lack a certain punch, probably because of Barry Levinson’s heritage in light entertainment. He is definitely more comfortable directing the scenes of rose-tinted nostalgia than those of gritty violence and abuse and this sanitised, glossy edge compromises the harder edges of the story.

I would also have to say that the courtroom section fizzled out a little because of the lack of interaction between the lead characters and it’s all resolved a little too conveniently, but it is an intelligently told tale that leaves a lasting impression.



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