Having a superb cast and even a talented director has never been an assurance
of a great movie. Luckily, "Sleepers" also has an intriguing
story to challenge its audience. Forget the controversy over whether or
not Lorenzo Carcaterra's book is true or not. The issues of loyalty and
revenge brought to life on the screen are much more compelling than his
publicity-seeking. As the childhood friends Joe Perrion, Brad Renfro, Geoff
Wigdor, and Jonathan Tucker are typical of New York's Hell's Kitchen in
the late sixties. They are alternately ruled by the local priest (Robert
De Niro) and the local Mafioso (Vittorio Gassman). Good kids sometimes
do bad things, though, and this quartet is sent to a reform school that
is certainly no Boys' Town. Kevin Bacon is the sadistic guard who is assisted
by three others in scarring these boys who fancied themselves as tough.
The second act jumps fifteen years forward to the now grown-ups, portrayed
by Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Billy Crudup and Ron Eldard. When revenge is
exacted, Dustin Hoffman, who looks like he just came off the set of his
recent "American Buffalo", is called upon overcome his alcoholism
and defend these neighborhood kids.
Now, there's quite a bit of talent involved in this, to which add Barry
Levinson as the director/writer/producer. Levinson cast Kevin Bacon in
his first starring role in "Diner", directed Robin Williams in
"Good Morning, Vietnam" and Dustin Hoffman for "Rain Man"
(which won Academy Awards for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and
Best Director). What is impressive is that he achieved remarkable results
with this high-powered and diverse cast. Brad Pitt gives the most restrained
and intense performance of his career. Robert De Niro's priest is conflicted
and yet pious. Jason Patric actually carries the second half which a lot
of critics are glad he was given the chance to do (he will next star in
"Speed II"). The intrinsically likable Kevin Bacon is completely
beyond redemption and is thoroughly hate-able. Even the small supporting
roles are powerful brushstrokes. Bruno Kirby is a favorite of Levinson's,
having worked with him on "Good Morning Vietnam", "Tin Men",
and his TV series "Homicide: Life on the Streets". As the wife-beating
father of one of the boys, he is the opposite of De Niro, showing no conflict
or piety. And watch for aging mob boss Vittorio Gassman when he deftly
insults the new drug lord while providing him with a reason for revenge
of his own.
"Sleepers" will stick with you, like peanut butter on the roof
of your mouth. The loss of innocence that affected all of us in the sixties
affected these boys in a different way. But the issues of right and wrong,
justice and injustice still remain with all of us. How far would we go
for our friends? Is there different justice for different classes? Do
some defining moments in our lives defy the popular notion of closure?
You tell me. Rated R.