Sleepers (15)

Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Brad Pitt, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric

Melodrama based on a controversial novel, this is an emotionally-manipulative movie. The author of the book claimed it was a true story, although several people tried to check it out and could find no evidence to support the facts. It is about four young friends who run together doing all those loveable things boys do in films- steal, cheat, gamble etc. One of their pranks turns sour though and a man is almost killed, so the boys are sent to a correctional facility and are placed in the 'care' of Kevin Bacon and his three equally terrifying pals. Before you can say Shawshank Redeption we have humiliation, beatings and rape. Naturally enough this has a nasty effect on them, and when we cut to the present day, two of them are hardened killers, one a struggling journalist and one an assisstant DA. Bumping into Bacon in a bar, the two killers bizarrely gun him down there and then. (Why not wait and get him later?) The other two hatch a plot to get thier revenge by getting their pals off and incriminating the other three guilty guards. To accomplish their task they need priest Robert DeNiro and washed up lawyer Hoffman.
I really didn't like this film. For a start off, prison film are nearly always blatently manipulative, and the extremes these guards went to was frankly unbelievable. We caught a glimpse of one humane guard near the beginning, but after that we are asked to accept that all of the guards routinely beat to a pulp and sodomized the boys in their care without being checked in any way.
Another thing I didn't like about this film was its casual glamorization of the street hoods the boys look up to, and the normalcy of a life of crime. Just ordinary boys, who run bribes for the mob and steal. Hmm. The coutroom scenes were surpisingly lacking in tension in any way. Brad Pitt's plays in low key- as his character should, and Hoffman is supposed to be a bumbling has-been, but this meant that the scenes lacked excitement or drama, commodities courtroom scenes are normally overflowing with. DeNiro underplays and brings quiet integrity but not much more to his role. Hoffman acts like a seedy Rainman, and looks like Doc Holliday. Pitt and Patric get surprisingly little to do. Much of the story is told from Patric's point of view so we hear him lots. Our own Minnie Driver pops up as the token female in a thankless role as everyone's girlfriend. Her vitality and charm are not allowed to seep through unfortunately. The four boys who play the boys are good. Brad Renfro(so good in The Client) has filled out a lot, and has screen presence. The lad playing the young Jason Patric was very good. Kevin Bacon seems to have played a number of these sort of roles lately. Hope he doesn't get typecast.
A street revenge melodrama, not my sort of film at all, but adequately played, and directed. The script is pretty cliched and the plot is full of holes. Jason Patric is getting to look a lot like a young Warren Beatty by the way. 5/10.

January 1997

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