Monday, June 27, 2016


Based on the non-fiction novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra, Sleepers is the story of four young boys from the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City whose lives were changed when they were sent to a brutal juvenile hall as they endured sexual abuse by guards only to get revenge on them many years later as adults. Written for the screen and directed by Barry Levinson, the film is an exploration of men who deal with the abuse that had changed them as two of them go on trial for the murder of one with two of the men trying to find ways to mess the trial up as one of them is a prosecutor trying against them. Starring Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver, Billy Crudup, Ron Eldard, Brad Renfro, Joe Perrino, Jonathan Tucker, Geoffrey Wigdor, Bruno Kirby, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert de Niro. Sleepers is a chilling yet evocative film from Barry Levinson.

Told in the span of nearly 20 years, the film revolves around four boys living in the Hell Kitchen’s section of New York City where an act of theft just to eat hot dogs led to an accident that nearly killed a man. In response to what happened, the boys are sent to the Wilkinson Home for Boys where they would be abused physically and sexually by guards as the experience would haunt them as adults where two of them would finally get revenge on one of the guards as they’re tried for murder by one of the men who would mastermind everything to make sure he loses and his friends go free. It’s a film that is part of a revenge film but it’s also about abuse and what drove these men into trying to free themselves from this horrific experience. All of which is told by one of the men who is a journalist as he reflects on his childhood as well as what he wants to do where he even gets a local priest involved in the trial.

Barry Levinson’s script has a unique structure as much of the first half is set in the mid-to-late 1960s as it revolves around these four boys who were just regular kids that go to church, do small yet non-violent jobs for a local Mafia kingpin, and play stickball. Due to a prank where everything went wrong and be sent to this juvenile hall, their lives change thanks in part to this guard named Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) who would abuse them in the worst way with three other guards. The abuse becomes intense to the point that they couldn’t even tell their parents nor their priest in Father Bobby Carillo (Robert de Niro). The film’s second half takes place fourteen years later where the boys become adults as Tommy Marcano (Billy Crudup) and John Reilly (Ron Eldard) have become career criminals and discover Nokes eating a restaurant where they confront and later kill him. With the aid of assistant district attorney Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt) being their prosecutor who wants to lose the case against them with help from the washed-up alcoholic attorney Danny Snyder (Dustin Hoffman) to represent Marcano and Reilly.

Yet, Sullivan and Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcatetta (Jason Patric) are aware that it’s not enough to help Marcano and Reilly be found not guilty as they would also mastermind revenge on the three other guards with the aid of the local Mafia boss King Benny (Vittorio Gassman) as well as longtime childhood friend Carol (Minnie Driver) as the latter would later learn about the abuse Carcatetta, Marcano, Reilly, and Sullivan endured as Father Bobby would also learn what happened. Yet, the film’s third act is about what Father Bobby is being asked to do by Carcatetta to help Marcano and Reilly as it does become not just a moral issue but also in seeing if Father Bobby could help these men he knew as boys.

Levinson’s direction does have an air of style in the way he presents 1960s Hell’s Kitchen as a place where things were innocent despite some of the dark aspects that surrounds the boys such as Carcatetta seeing his mother be beaten by his father or some of the things that King Benny does to keep his neighborhood clean. It’s as if Levinson recreates 1960s New York City as a time where things were enjoyable and had a bit of danger to it that still made it fun with the usage of the wide and medium shots. By the time the film moves upstate at the juvenile hall, it becomes a much tighter and more unsettling film as Levinson’s direction really maintains that haunting atmosphere. The scenes of abuse are never shown as Levinson is more concerned about what will happen before and its aftermath which just adds that sense of terror.

Once the film reaches its second half, it is set in a more modern world but one that is very dark in terms of its imagery but also in the impact of the violence. Notably the scene where Marcano and Reilly see Nokes and confront him as it is quite eerie as well as being very violent. Levinson’s direction would become stylish in the way Carcatetta and Sullivan would set things up as it includes a meeting between King Benny and another crime lord in Little Caesar (Wendell Pierce) as it relates to the latter whose brother was in the same juvenile hall the four boys were in. It’s a small scene but one that showcases an air of respect in the world of crime but also in the fact that some debts just can’t be paid with money as King Benny would learn the truth about what happened to boys he had cared about despite what he does for a living. The trial scenes are just as intense emotionally as well as in the climax as it involves Father Bobby’s testimony as it is one of the most chilling moments in the film. Overall, Levinson creates a mesmerizing film about four men getting revenge on those that had abused them at a juvenile hall.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the sunny and lively look of the film‘s first act in Hell‘s Kitchen to the eerie look at the juvenile hall that includes some de-colored film stock for a football sequence between the kids and the guards. Editor Stu Linder does nice work with the editing as it has bits of style in a few montages while also being straightforward in its drama and some light-hearted moments. Production designer Kristi Zea, with set decorator Beth A. Rubino and art director Tim Galvin, does fantastic work with the look of the juvenile hall as well as some of the places in Hell‘s Kitchen and the restaurant where Marcano and Reilly see Nokes.

Costume designer Gloria Gresham does terrific work with clothes from the look of the kids in the 1960s to the clothes the characters would wear as adults in the 1980s. Sound designer Richard Beggs and sound editor Tim Holland do superb work with the sound in capturing the vibrant energy of Hell‘s Kitchen to the tense and scary world of the juvenile hall. The film’s music by John Williams is amazing for its low-key yet heavy orchestral score that plays into the drama with its string arrangements as it carries a lot of weight into the story while the soundtrack features an array of music of the 60s like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, Donovan, Spencer Davis Group, Love, Dusty Springfield, and Doris Day to music from the Gap Band, Soft Cell, and Everything is Everything.

The casting by Louis DiGiaimo is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from James Pickens Jr. as an African-American guard who doesn’t take shit from Nokes and protects the boys on their first day, Frank Medrano as a Hell’s Kitchen hood in Fat Mancho, Monica Potillo as the young Carol, Aida Turturro as a woman who witnessed Marcano and Reilly at the restaurant, Eugene Byrd as a tough African-American kid named Rizzo the boys befriend at the juvenile hall, Dash Mihok as a juvie who gets into a fight with Sullivan at the juvenile hall, Angela Rago as Shakes’ mother, and John Slattery as a kind English teacher at the juvenile hall. Other noteworthy small roles include Bruno Kirby as Shakes’ father who is strict but fair towards him and Wendell Pierce as the crime lord Little Caesar who is also Rizzo’s older brother as he learns the truth about what happened to him. In the roles of the three guards who abused the boys with Nokes in Jeffrey Donovan as the aspiring politician Henry Addison, Lennie Loftin as the corrupt Adam Styler, and Terry Kinney as Ralph Ferguson are superb in their roles as three men who are quite scary.

In the roles of the younger version of the boys, Joe Perrino as the young Shakes, Brad Renfro as the young Sullivan, Jonathan Tucker as the young Marcano, and Geoffrey Wigdor as the young Reilly are all amazing as they display an innocence to guys who live in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen as they’re unprepared for what they deal with as well as the abuse they’re too ashamed to unveil to their parents and Father Bobby. Vittorio Gassman is excellent as King Benny as a former bodyguard for Lucky Luciano turned local Mob king who learns about what happened to the boys as he does whatever to help them without leaning towards the world of crime. Minnie Driver is fantastic as Carol as a childhood friend who helps Shakes in trying to help Marcano and Reilly while learning about the truth about what happened to them as kids which made her very uneasy. Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup are brilliant in their respective roles as John Reilly and Tommy Marcano as two men who are haunted by their experience as they turn to crime where they finally get some vengeance upon seeing Nokes at a restaurant.

Dustin Hoffman is great as Danny Snyder as this alcoholic lawyer that is given a chance to defend Reilly and Marcano though he is largely unaware of the role he is playing other than getting a chance to become someone again. Robert de Niro is remarkable as Father Bobby Carillo as a priest who has been the one person the boys can turn to as he learns about what happens where he is put into a situation that goes against everything he’s been doing as a priest. Kevin Bacon is phenomenal as Sean Nokes as this abusive and sadistic prison guard who likes to beat up the kids as well as do things to them in his own perverse way of making them tough. Brad Pitt is marvelous as Michael Sullivan as an assistant district attorney who is masterminding the case as an act revenge as he tries whatever he can to lose convincingly while dealing with his own issues as it relates to the abuse he suffered as a kid. Finally, there’s Jason Patric in a tremendous performance as Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra as a journalist who helps Sullivan in trying to get revenge but also is forced to tell Father Bobby and Carol the truth as he also reflects on his past that still haunts him.

Sleepers is an outstanding film from Barry Levinson. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a multi-layered storyline, and eerie yet compelling stories about sexual and child abuse as well as vengeance. It’s a film that is stylish but also manages to do a lot without being heavy-handed nor go too far into material that is quite intense. In the end, Sleepers is a magnificent film from Barry Levinson.

Barry Levinson Films: (Diner) - (The Natural) - (Young Sherlock Holmes) - (Tin Men) - (Good Morning Vietnam) - (Rain Man) - (Avalon (1990 film)) - (Bugsy) - (Toys) - (Jimmy Hollywood) - (Disclosure) - (Wag the Dog) - (Sphere) - (Liberty Height) - (An Everlasting Piece) - (Bandits (2001 film)) - (Envy) - (Man of the Year) - (What Just Happened) - (You Don’t Know Jack) - (The Bay) - (The Humbling) - (Rock the Kasbah) - (The Wizard of Lies)

© thevoid99 2016


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I've never seen this one, but now I want to after reading this. It's always been one of those "I should probably watch that" films for me. I think I'll put it on my Blind Spot next year.

Khalid said...

Remember seeing this a few years back and not liking it particularly. I admired the performances but I thought it explored the subject-matter in such a dreadful way, rather than making it powerful and emotionally moving, it just felt dull and unnecessarily downbeat.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It's a film that connected with me when I first saw it on TV and it still resonates with me as it's probably why it's one of my favorite films of the 2000s.

@Khalid-If it had shown something, it would've been too much as I think what Barry Levinson did was more restrained and worked as you get the idea of what was happening.