October 21, 1996 -- "Sleepers" is a very powerful film about innocence lost, revenge and justice. It is well acted, cleverly directed, photographed and edited, but leaves one feeling hollow and feeling after seeing it.
The story is about four boys who accidentally kill a man as the result of a childish prank. They are sent to a reform school in the late 1960s where they are brutalized, tortured and sexually assaulted by guards.
Later, after the men grow up, two of them, now mobsters who have killed before, meet up with one of the guards, Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) and kill him. They are caught and charged with murder. The other two, "Shakes" (Jason Patric) and Michael (Brad Pitt), conspire to rig the trial so their friends are not convicted. They also come up with a plan to get even with the rest of the guards.
The plan is all very slick. The problem is. It isn't enough. Nothing can get their lives back to what they might have been, not even murder. There's no balancing the scales. The ending is tidy, but hollow. Part of the problem is the characters all seem quite shallow. The exhibit only emptiness and pain. This, in itself, is interesting, but not terribly entertaining.
The boys are Catholics and a priest (played by Robert Di Niro) is a prominent character in the film. But God and the church are barely given lip service in the film. Religion is a plot convenience, something to be gotten around or debunked.
It seems this film is trying to say there is no salvation, there is no redemption, there is no justice, there is no such thing as rising up out of the depths of hatred. There are only scores and the settling of scores. Artistically, this is a fine film, but in the end, it has surprisingly little to say about the human condition. It is a hollow, manipulative artifice, but a splendidly crafted one. This film rates a B.
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