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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.78%
Worth A Look38.89%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 20.37%
Total Crap: 1.85%

2 reviews, 42 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"I don't know if Carcaterra's story is fake. I know the movie is."
2 stars

Lorenzo Carcaterra's "nonfiction" bestseller 'Sleepers' reads like a movie, which may be why (A) its veracity has been questioned and (B) a film version is almost unnecessary.

Here we have the story of four Hell's Kitchen boys who go to reform school, endure months of torture, and grow up to be haunted men who take revenge on their tormentors. Perfect movie material. Yet the movie Barry Levinson has made from it feels less true and vivid than Carcaterra's snappy prose. For one thing, when you watch it as a movie, you can't help recalling other movies that did it better. The Hell's Kitchen footage is right out of GoodFellas (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus shot both films). The reform-school stuff is Shawshank Redemption Jr. The climactic trial is John Grisham. And so on. The film makes Carcaterra's story seem as fake as his detractors say it is.

After a stupid prank that hospitalizes an old man, the boys are sent to Wilkinson, a notoriously harsh institution. The neighborhood priest, Father Bobby (Robert De Niro), is an alumnus of Wilkinson and knows what happens to boys who land there. But he's powerless to stop the guards, led by the sadistic Nokes (Kevin Bacon in full sicko mode), from beating and raping the boys routinely.

Cut to fifteen years later, 1981. The nightmare lives on in the memories of the boys, now grown men. The Carcaterra character, nicknamed "Shakes" (Jason Patric), works at a newspaper. The other three men are on different sides of the law: Michael (Brad Pitt) is a DA, while John (Ron Eldard) and Tommy (Billy Crudup) are swaggering hit-men. One night, John and Tommy happen across the now-broken-down Nokes in a bar. This coincidence, and the swift vengeance that follows, feel so unlikely and movie-ish that it might actually have happened this way.

John and Tommy are arrested, and Michael takes the case against them. Yes, you read correctly. Michael and Shakes hatch a plan to get their friends off and put Wilkinson on trial. They hire inept lawyer Danny Snyder (Dustin Hoffman) to act as the pair's defense. Hoffman and De Niro are fine individually, but I wish Levinson had let them share more screen time; there are exactly two fleeting shots of these legends together in the same frame. (Heat, with De Niro and Al Pacino, made the same mistake.)

I didn't believe the trial in the book, and I don't buy it in the movie. What court would allow lawyers to throw a trial so blatantly? Michael is supposed to be pretending to prosecute his friends, but I lost count of how many times he should have yelled "Objection" just to keep up appearances. (Does the title refer to the judge and jury?) I also found myself thinking (which I didn't when reading the book) that, even before their murder of Nokes, John and Tommy were cold-blooded hit-men -- presumably guilty of killing many other people who were not leering child-rapists. Shakes and Michael (and probably Father Bobby) endured the same abuse. They didn't become killers. The point of Sleepers might be to show us why. But almost everything in it, true or not, plays as a cliché.

Barry Levinson does a competent job, but he works best with material that isn't necessarily the stuff of movies, like 'Diner.' There's not much he can do with 'Sleepers.' It was a better movie as a book.

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originally posted: 01/06/07 14:21:38
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell overrated unpleasant & hollow 1 stars
11/30/09 Jeff Wilder Effectively disturbing. 4 stars
8/07/08 Quigley Far too long, but otherwise a very disturbing and ultimately rewarding film 4 stars
1/05/08 Pamela White very entertaining and has lots of intrigue 4 stars
2/18/07 action movie fan tame compared to lorenzo carcaterra,s excellent book 3 stars
1/09/07 Drew Galletti Intriguing and disturbing 4 stars
12/13/06 Sepi53 Great cast in a good film 4 stars
5/10/06 omar one of my favorite movies. really good 5 stars
7/31/05 yuko great script, great acting of the great actors 5 stars
6/30/04 Anita Hard to watch but find out for yourself... 4 stars
5/26/04 Dianna Great Flick....definitally watch it!!!! 5 stars
3/17/04 Dr.Lecter Overlong, unbelievably pretentious melodrama 2 stars
1/11/04 Lotte It is an amazingly depressing yet wonderful story. I love it. 5 stars
11/05/03 fauziana I love the movie so much but the book is much better 5 stars
9/09/03 Nicole Depressing 4 stars
6/11/03 Mystique a good story and good actors 4 stars
10/26/02 Phil M. Aficionado Long, but compelling and memorable story well acted and directed. Important subject. 5 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum Daring subject matter handled well 5 stars
8/26/02 Lee Gregory Excellent poignanat tale of lifelong friendship and poetic justice that transcends all phys 5 stars
8/13/01 Edwin Menguin Good first half, pretty crap second half, Minnie Driver needs a slap 4 stars
6/22/01 Josh Tybur Great acting and great story, but didn't give me anything 3 stars
4/24/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Disturbing, but fascinating. Performances were outstanding. 4 stars
2/20/01 liz One of the best movies ever made! 5 stars
2/15/01 lisa sick but o.k. Renfro is such a hottie!!!! 3 stars
2/14/01 Jake Very impressive. child actors shined. Only downside was Pitt's poor acting. 4 stars
12/20/00 Speedy One of the most underated films ever; Terrific story and performances 5 stars
7/12/00 Terrie Smith Pretty good film; strong performances. Liked Vittorio Gassman as "King Benny". 4 stars
4/27/00 seldom scene compelling and wonderfully acted- 5 stars
11/04/99 Karahde Khan Underrated. Fine cast, specially De Niro as the priest and Bacon deliciously evil as Nokes. 5 stars
10/08/99 Con Great+ convincing 5 stars
4/11/99 Tristynn Great.. book is better... very haunting.. 5 stars
3/11/99 Whitney good story...kinda creapy though 4 stars
1/25/99 Chloe Marie Elestenogoph ( Blah. 2 stars
12/10/98 baby-a read the book it's so much better 4 stars
9/06/98 Young Einstein No connection with me here. Shouldn't have been name actors in these roles. 3 stars
9/01/98 MikeF I liked it. it was good. 4 stars
8/30/98 Johny Overlong, a let down 2 stars
8/29/98 Mister Whoopee Very disappointing. 2 stars
8/26/98 Pete Decent flick, but I expected more with this cast and the hype leading up to it. 3 stars
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  18-Oct-1996 (R)



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