Dusting Off... Sleepers
Each week we dust off a long forgotten treasure and remind ourselves why we loved it so much in the first place, this week, it's Sleepers...
What is it?
Released in 1996, Barry Levinson's film is part coming-of-age story, part tale of revenge, based around the lives of four friends growing up in the Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood of New York City. In 1967, the foursome find themselves in trouble with the law when a prank they pull on a hot dog vendor goes horribly wrong, nearly killing a man in the process.
They are sentenced to serve between 12 and 18 months each in a young offenders institute, the Wilkinson Home for Boys, during which time they are systematically abused by four of the wardens.
Fearing that nobody will believe them, or even care, the boys vow not to talk to the police and never to tell anybody about their experiences, even writing to their parents and their priest, Father Bobby, asking them not to visit.
Cut to fourteen years later and two of the boys, now feared gang members, bump into one of their abusers and exact revenge by killing him. They are due to stand trial and look set to be convicted of murder, but one of the other boys, now a district attorney, spots an opportunity to get even with the guards and takes on the case as prosecutor, with the intention of sabotaging the case against his childhood friends and discrediting the dead guard, revealing the truth about him and his friends, the other wardens, and exposing them for what they are.
Executing a carefully organised plan that involves hiring a washed-up, alcoholic lawyer to represent the two defendants and using their boyhood connections with neighbourhood Mafia boss, the trial offers the boys an opportunity to bring their abusers to justice, even if they have to bend the law a little themselves to get there.
Why should I revisit?
Aside from the fact that Sleepers is a brilliantly written, cleverly directed and immensely satisfying film to watch, it also features one of the most impressive cast lists you're likely to find. Brad Pitt, Billy Crudup, Jason Patric and Ron Eldard take on the roles of the four grown boys, while Robert De Niro is excellent as Father Bobby, as is Dustin Hoffmann in his role as the has-been lawyer, Danny Snyder.
Kevin Bacon is as menacing as he is dislikable in the role of Sean Noakes, the ringleader of the abusive wardens who meets his end at the hands of the two vengeful young men, while elsewhere there are appearances from Minnie Driver, Mad Men's John Slattery, The Wire's Wendell Pierce and Burn Notice's Jeffery Donovan, among many others.
Who will enjoy it?
Although the subject matter is sometimes pretty heavy, especially the parts relating to child abuse, the film is brilliantly acted and beautifully shot. It can be harrowing at times, but we think that anyone would enjoy this film. We can't recommend this one highly enough.