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Sleepers

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Sleepers

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jason Patric
Director: Barry Levinson
Rated: R
RunTime: 152 Minutes
Release Date: October 1996
Genres: Drama, Suspense


*Also starring: Wendell Pierce, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver, Vittorio Gassman, Billy Crudup, Ron Eldard, Terry Kinney



Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

Based on a true story or not, Barry Levinson's adaptation of Lorenzo Carcaterra's best-selling novel is a perfectly competent Hollywood revenge fantasy. The problem is, the film is not quite as great as it thinks it is.

This story of "friendship that runs deeper than blood" opens in Hell's Kitchen in the late 1960s, where we meet a group of four young boys, Michael (Brad Renfro), Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), John (Geoffrey Wigdor), and the author himself, Lorenzo, a.k.a. Shakes (Joseph Perrino). These troublemaking but well-meaning kids get more than they bargained for when a prank goes awry and they land in a hellish boys' reform school, where they are treated to violent physical and sexual abuse by four of the guards, led by one nasty fellow by the name of Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon).

After the kids finish their sentence, the film flashes forward to 1981, where the film's problems begin. The four guys have now just about gone their separate ways and lost touch with each other--is this what you call a "friendship that runs deeper than blood"? John (former ER recurrent Ron Eldard) and Tommy (Billy Crudup) are now bigtime hoodlums, and, in a fortuitous coincidence, they run into and fatally shoot Nokes in a restaurant. Enter Michael (Brad Pitt), who is now a New York assistant DA, who agrees to prosecute the case against John and Tommy--and, unbeknownst to this two childhood friends, plans to intentionally throw the case to let the two off and have their revenge. Helping in the elaborate revenge scheme is, yes, Shakes (Jason Patric), now a clerk for the New York Times, who also engineers the downfall of their other three tormentors at the school.

I suppose it goes without saying that all works out in the end--but, of course, not without an easily overcome glitch or two. And those seeking a glossy revenge tale in which the baddies get their just desserts won't be disappointed with Sleepers; well-acted and smoothly directed, it gets the job done... but only on those terms. Watching the film I could not help but feel other grandiose intentions at work, ambitions that weren't quite met. The impressive cast (which also includes Robert De Niro as the kids' priest and a hilarious Dustin Hoffman as John and Tommy's alcoholic, drug-addicted defense attorney), John Williams's shockingly understated and somber score, and Patric's flat, pretentious voiceover narration ("Hell's Kitchen is a place of innocence ruled by corruption") suggests a big Oscar-worthy tale. But it isn't, at least not in this critic's opinion. The "true" story relies too heavily on contrived coincidences and, worst of all, shortchanges major characters. Despite their role in killing Nokes, John and Tommy are virtually invisible in the second half; never do we get a glimpse of insight as to what they are feeling during the trial, seeing their friend "trying" to put them away. It is quite obvious why director-scripter Levinson focused on matinee idols Pitt and Patric, but their side of the story is perhaps the least interesting. Also, De Niro's character is called on to make a major ethical and religious choice, and we never really get a sense as to why and how he arrives at his ultimate decision; it just happens.

As mentioned before, the cast, to varying degrees, does a good job. Top honors go to De Niro, Hoffman, Perrino, and Minnie Driver as the four's pal. Bacon exudes appropriate menace in the one-note role of Nokes. Patric and Pitt are adequate, but they, Patric especially, suffer from accent inconsistencies. Perrino has a very thick New York accent, and Patric barely makes an effort to use one; while time has passed, I doubt that a boy with that thick of an accent could shake it off so completely no matter where he lived or whatever speech coach he may have had. The only star whose accent is in line with his or her younger counterpart is Driver, whose very convincing accent comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering her natural British lilt. Eldard and Crudup don't make enough of an impression because they are called on to do so little. Crudup has been hailed along with the likes of That Thing You Do!'s Johnathon Schaech as a Hollywood "it" boy, a superstar of tomorrow; based on his limited work here, it is hard to see how that buzz originated.

It may appear as if I didn't enjoy Sleepers, but I did; I got caught up in the story and the characters. But this good film had the potential to be a great film, a true Oscar contender that, alas, didn't quite make it to the screen.

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