Sleepers (1996 with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman)


USA / 1996

Director and Writer: Barry Levinson (from the book by Lorenzo Carcaterra)
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Pitt, Billy Crudup, Ron Eldard, Jason Patric

“When it comes to portraying the lives of real people on the screen,” wrote Lorezno Carceterra, “the movies have never been accurate…if the end result is action, romance and adventure, so what if the facts are embellished?”

The author also wrote the work upon which this film is based, an intense revenge tragedy focusing on four youths in ’60s New York. Lorenzo, Michael, Tommy and John spend time working for local mobster King Benny (Vittorio Gassman) amid spells of petty theft and shooting hoops with the local priest, Father Booby (Robert De Niro). Their lives are ruined after a prank to steal a hot dog stand causes a fatal accident that sees them sent to a reform school upstate. At the hands of the sadistic prison guards, led by Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) they are raped and beaten, but vow to keep their experiences secret.

A decade later the adult Tommy (Billy Crudup) and John (Ron Eldard) are back on the streets, subsisting on small-time scams. In a local bar they spot Nokes, drinking alone. Without thinking, they kill him, and are soon arrested. Michael (Brad Pitt), now a District Attorney, takes the case for prosecuting them, enlisting reporter Lorenzo (Jason Patric) to help stage their acquittal and receive justice at last.

After the studio bidding war, Barry Levinson came on board and constructed substantial characters to match those seen in Diner and Bugsy. But former federal prosecutor Bill Callahan decided to investigate the story’s veracity. He claimed the author had never been imprisoned and no guard was ever murdered. Tracing semi-fictional characters to their sources he also found the DA never tampered with evidence and no record of a trial could be found. Carcaterra countered by saying he could substantiate the entire story, but refused to do so. In the end the search for truth proved an irrelevance, as harrowing drama overcame legal deadlock and Sleepers was finally acknowledged to be a haunting tale of redemption.