Known as one of the over looked in the year of release, yet boasting a stellar cast of actors who fight to get revenge over terrible acts of child abuse in a juvenile prison. The subject matter sadly maybe the reason why it was overlooked at the box office, still too hard to really deal with it for an audience.
Sleepers (1996) was a hard film to watch, dealing sensitively with such raw material. The film is structured in three parts, with one of the boys/men Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra (Jason Patric) narrating the film to give a personal touch to the traumatic journey they go on together from the streets of Hells Kitchen to juvenile prison with the boys after committing a stupidly dangerous crime that could have been averted, for a number of reasons. The film relies a lot of learning from the past, what could have happened through to what is morally right in their four situations.
The time on the streets really sets the tone of the film, four boys who like all lads mess about, get into trouble sometimes, sadly this goes too far one day, resulting in them going to Juvenile prison. They have a champion in the church in the form of Father Bobby (Robert De Niro) who is there for them throughout, being a reformed man, and showing that no one person. Who is later called upon to put his own ethics on the line for the freedom of these boys.
But no-one deserves what they endured whilst inside at the hands of four prison guards who were there to protect them, making sure they were safe, breaking up fights. Lead by power-driven Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) who sees them as easy targets, using the pathetic excuse of toughening them up. Instead they spend their time there living in fear for what could happen when they sleep, when a guard comes around the corner. Life was easier on the outside where justice could be dealt with far easier.
Back on the streets 15 years or so later justice finally is coming their way. But not before we see the psychological damage has done to them. Leaving two of them into a world of crime, murders and addiction. When by chance Tommy Marcano (Billy Crudup) and John Reilly (Ron Eldard) bump into the waste of space who ruined their lives happily eating a meal, that becomes his last. Setting the ball in motion for real justice to begin with the other two men Shakes (Patric) and Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt) can bring their past cleverly to light, through the court case that Sullivan takes as district attorney takes the case and uses it to his advantage whilst an old friend from Hells Kitchen King Benny (Vittorio Gassman) hires washed up lawyer Danny Snyder (Dustin Hoffman) to do his best for the defence, pulling holes in the prosecution that has it’s on motives and aims, which all are in the favour of the two washed up men who sadly are lost at the end of the film, two more victims of child abuse, whilst the other two men have found the strength to move on as best they can after the events, choosing not to talk about it.
Hard choices are made through out this gritty film that doesn;t shy away from what it’s saying. Thankfully we never see any acts, being distasteful, the power of suggestion, as in Delores Claiborne (1995) which pulls away when anything is going to happen. Why depict such horrific acts on-screen if we don’t want to even see them in life, for those who have suffered themselves it would be a step to far. The film gives hope, and also talks of the reality of what can really be done, when child abuse is committed, who does the victim turn to, who can they trust, will others believe them? They have to have the strength which can take years to see the light.
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