Four best friends see a prank go disastrously wrong in a moment which will change their lives forever. They are sent to a detention centre and must battle to survive the must horrific of abuse. Thirteen years later a chance meeting leads to revenge and an elaborate plan must follow.
Sleepers is a very tough to watch film that highlights how abuse can cause emotional and psychological damage that will last a life time. The start of the film is probably the most poignant part given that the friends are enjoying carefree life and the summer in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Looked over by Father Bobby who wants nothing more than Shakes, Tommy, John and Michael to behave themselves and have a good life ahead of them.
This would all change though when the prank with a hotdog vendor would accidentally go to far and were then put on trial to serve time at Wilkinson Home for boys. Shakes was given 6-12 months with the rest given 12-18 months. It does not take long too see that Sean Nokes a guard is going to be their worst nightmare, getting Shakes to strip completely naked not long after arriving. It gets worse for them though as they are constantly abused and raped by Nokes along with Henry Addison, Ralph Ferguson and Adam Styler. It is obviously very distressing and tough to watch at times as the scenes are tough and highlight just how bad it was for the them.
As Shakes is due to get released he speaks to his friends about reporting the abuse but they refuse claiming that no one would actually believe them or even care about it. At that moment they decide that they will never speak of it again. Throughout the time in Wilkinson, Father Bobby visits the boys but as the abuse gets worse they tell him not to come anymore not being able to look him in the eyes anymore.
We then head to thirteen years later in 1981 with John and Tommy who are criminals and watched for many different crimes. A very unexpected encounter with Nokes in a pub in Hell’s Kitchen sees the pair eventually getting a chance to kill the man who completely wrecked everything about their lives and them as people as well. It was a bitter sweet moment as the amount of abuse given out Nokes deserved to be killed, but a part of me wanted him to pay in court as well. Anyway this then leads to a court course Michael is now a lawyer. Everything is not as it seems as he works for the prosecution but does not actually plan on doing his job properly.
This brings the four boys back together and Shakes eventually opens up to Father Bobby and Carol. Both utterly shocked and disturbed that it happened to people they really care about and more so that they had never reached out before. The court case takes different twists and turns and is not really looking very good for the defence with Danny Snyder seeming very confused throughout it.
The performances in the film are fantastic especially from the young cast members of Joe Perrino, Brad Renfro, Jonathan Tucker and Geoffrey Wigdor. In what is a truly difficult story and plot they really put in amazing performances which are very impressive to watch. Then going to the adult characters in Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Billy Crudup and Ron Eldard. All of which were good comparisons to how they could look as they got older, something that is important for viewers to easily recognise who’s who! Kevin Bacon certainly likes to take risks on the characters he takes on and this is probably one of the worst. While the character is the worst though it also means he puts in a good performance. The lack of emotions to the actions for the character is haunting. Robert De Niro gives a good supporting role as Father Bobby which is certainly something different from him as well, capturing the right about of compassion.
The tough thing about the film though is that it is based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra who claims that it is all based on his life and a very true story. But no proof has been given of any crimes taking place and records of anything else. This is stated at the end of the film as well, so it does pose the question about whether or not this is based on a true story or not. It still manages to be a very powerful film though with good performances which really highlights the impact of abuse and that those placed in difficult situations or places are often targeted.