Sleepers Review

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Four friends are sent to reform school after a boys' prank goes bad and are systematically abused by the guards. This has serious repurcussions in later life...


Boasting a better turn out than your average awards ceremony, Sleepers found the impact of its star-laden cast rather muffled come its theatrical release, when a flurry of allegations suggested that writer Lorenzo Carcaterra’s arresting and painful true story was, in fact a work of fiction. And although any conclusive verdict on this will inevitable colour your opinion, Barry Levinson’s emotive and richly layered film is best viewed, if possible at face value.

Sent to reform school after a prank involving a nicked hot dog cart goes horribly wrong in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York, four friends suffer at the hands of the guards. The torment shatters their lives and leads, 11 years later, to bloody vengeance and a hazardous courtroom battle for moral justice.

And for all the chiselled cheekbone and proven thespian clout of the adult players, it’s the four younger actors – particularly Brad Renfro (The Client) and Joe Perrino – who really excel, forging that vital emotional connection during the first hour, and balancing flaws to come when the film turns to courtroom drama.

Their older counterparts (Patric, Pitt, Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup) are capable if unremarkable, and it falls to peripheral characters to preserve the standard – De Niro’s quiet brilliance as sympathetic Father Bobby; Hoffman, offering light relief as a shabby lawyer ; Bacon’s son-of-Beelzebub prison guard a chilling study of sadistic evil.

More impressive early on, in terms of both performance and tempo, and flashes of quality – whether directed or acted – punctuate less frequently as proceedings come to, rather lazily, the built-in drama of oak-panelled trial scenes. Nevertheless, a harsh but compelling tale offering the sort of gruesome fascination that grips in the gut, and questions your convictions even as it demands judgement.

Compelling drama with some very strong performances by the all-star cast and the younger actors.