Release date: October 18, 1996 Director: Barry Levinson
In the wake of a tragic accident, four young boys – John, Tommy, Michael, and Shakes – are sent to a correctional facility in upstate New York. The boys are thrown into the darkest pocket of hell and left at the mercy of brutal guards, led by a sadistic pedophile, John Nokes. However, the bonds of brotherhood forged between them – and their strong relationship with a caring Catholic priest – ultimately help them to survive the evil which enshrouds them. Years later, the four friends have diverged in their paths, and they embark on a quest for revenge against the evil which sought to destroy them.
Corrupt institutions can destroy the innocence of childhood, replacing it with a pain which is embedded so deeply that the lives which were corrupted can never again find true peace. On the other hand, justice steeped in love and honorable revenge can give the victims a sense of peace, even if the peace they find in retribution is not meant to prevail forever. The thing that stood out for me, at least in the first half of the movie, is the fact that while the viewer was shielded visually from the abuse which was doled out to the four young protagonists, the viewer knew exactly what the boys were going through. These difficult moments help the viewer to understand the protagonists’ motivations later in the movie.
Themes of retribution and redemption are clearly on display in Sleepers. In John and Tommy’s case, a chance encounter with their dark nemesis, Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) presents them with the opportunity for retribution. The two hardened men were initially repaying Nokes for the physical and emotional damage he inflicted on them. For the other two boys, Michael and Shakes, and particularly in Michael’s case, the aftermath of John and Tommy’s retribution throws into motion his own agenda – revenge. He is able to use the catalyst that was provided by John and Tommy to manipulate a corrupt system of justice and bring to light the darkness that the four friends endured at the Wilkinson Home for Boys and ultimately put to rest the painful secret which has haunted all of them.
Father Bobby (Robert Deniro), the caring, Catholic priest who plays the role of surrogate father and protector to the four protagonists has the hardest choice to make – at what point does protecting the people that you love supersede the very essence of what you believe in? Father Bobby is faced with a difficult dilemma, one that he does not take lightly, but ultimately, the path he chose was truly the right path.
Ultimately, Sleepers is a strong movie backed by a stellar cast and a powerful message. There are some weak points in the story, the most significant being the voiceover which at times became a bit distracting from the story. Overall, if you can tolerate the extreme graphic nature of the film and you enjoy a good revenge thriller, this movie is worth your time to watch.