Sleepers (1996)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

As adolescents, four boys sent to a reformatory were raped and tortured by guards there. Now grown men, two of them spot the sadistic head guard and murder him. Now the four friends -- including a journalist and an assistant D.A. -- plan an elaborate scheme to escape conviction.

Rating: R (adult situations/language, sex, violence)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Barry Levinson
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 25, 1997
Warner Bros. Pictures


as Sean Nokes

as Father Bobby

as Danny Snyder

as Lorenzo aka `Shakes'

as Michael

as King Benny

as John

as Ferguson

as Young Shakes

as Young Michael

as Young Tommy

as Young John

as Shakes' Father

as Young King Benny

as Carson

as Little Caesar

as Fat Mancho

as Fred Carlson

as Mrs. Salinas

as Juvenile Judge

as Judge Weisman

as Juvenile Lawyer

as Juvenile Judge

as Boyfriend

as Confession Man

as Young John Riley

as Confession Woman

as Rizzo

as Juanito

as Burly Man

as Nick Davenport

as 1st Man

as 2nd Man

as Prison Doctor

as Sister Carolyn

as Young Carol

as 1st Inmate

as 2nd Inmate

as Wilkinson Guard

as Bailiff

as Foreman

as Male Juror

as James Caldwell

as Miss Pippin

as Man in Tub

as Davy's Sister

as Subway Woman

as Juvenile Judge
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Sleepers

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Critic Reviews for Sleepers

All Critics (55) | Top Critics (11)

It is all legally preposterous. But Levinson is a slick craftsman, his actors are insinuatingly real, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus casts a disarmingly believable light on these proceedings.

Full Review… | August 14, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

If audiences aren't bothered by this disturbing subtext, there's a lot to enjoy in this impeccably structured, handsomely produced saga.

Full Review… | June 24, 2008
Top Critic

Levinson has done nothing to sift the half-truths from the melodrama...

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

At times the images are agonizing to behold, men in their most desperate, hateful depths preying on children. The film, exceptional on many counts, ultimately is sad in a hopeless, haunting way.

Full Review… | June 18, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Idealized? You bet. That's why the loss of this world must be avenged with the same broad strokes that you'd expect from the Count of Monte Cristo.

May 12, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

It plays out as a stylish and lurid amoral vigilante thriller, one that never earns the viewer's confidence that this is the real thing.

Full Review… | April 27, 2015
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Audience Reviews for Sleepers


Well crafted drama, Sleepers manages to tackle a revenge style story with the right mix of drama that is aided by a great cast of talented actors. I thought that the ideas expressed on-screen were well tackled in the sense that there are several disturbing moments with the first hour of the film. The rest of the film changes gears and goes into a court room drama. Barry Levinson's direction is well done, and we get an accomplished picture that is captivating, powerful and unforgettable. This is a well structured revenge crime drama that uses basic elements of storytelling to really let the tale unfold. Sleepers is engaging, and the Levinson suggests what is happening to the boys off camera, makes this film quite disturbing, but it's done in a way to leave to the viewer to interpret what kind of horrors they face. With that aspect, the film really is impressive as it's engrossing from start to finish, and there are some tremendous talent that is present here. Revenge films are pretty much alike, but the way they're handled make them stand out, and with Sleepers we have a terrific picture that is very well acted and directed, and in that regard it's a memorable genre film that does manage to stand out due to its cast and the way it handles its subject. If you enjoy the genre, Sleepers is a film not to miss, it works on many levels and it's a film that despite its simple plot, manages to be riveting from start to finish. Legal dramas are always interesting to watch because there are so many spins to the story, and with the story that is here, we have something that is entertaining, yet at the same time hard to watch. Luckily the way the subject was handled was very well done.

Alex roy

Super Reviewer


After the massive box-office flop of "Toys" in 1992 and the overlooked, straight to dvd, "Jimmy Hollywood", director Barry Levinson seemed to be in need of some stronger material. As a result, he decided on a couple of adaptations; the first was Michael Crichton's "Disclosure" followed by "Sleepers", the controversial novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra, which served as a reminder that Levinson still had something to offer.
Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, four close friends, Shakes (Joe Perinno), Michael (Brad Renfro), John (Geoffrey Wigdor) and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) fill their days playing pranks and making their own entertainment. However, one of their pranks lead to a man getting seriously injured and they are sentenced to time in the Wilkenson Detention Centre in upstate New York. In the centre they are subjected to beatings and sexual abuse by the guards. Over ten years later, two of the boys take revenge on one of them (Kevin Bacon), which drags up the past and involves everyone they know.
What we have with "Sleepers" is a stellar cast, a more than capable director and a story that's purportedly based on fact. There's really not that far you can wrong in these instances but, unfortunately, it's the "based on fact" angle that let's this film down. Everything else is handled with skill, but no matter how well it's delivered, it leaves an aroma that smells vaguely of garbage. It's too far fetched and under closer scrutiny and investigation, the events that writer Lorenzo Carcaterra claims to be true, are unfounded. There simply isn't any evidence of them. Now, if this film just played out as a piece of storytelling then that issue wouldn't exist and you'd be able to sit back and enjoy what this film has to offer. And what it has to offer is plentiful. The cinematography by (Scorsese regular) Michael Ballhaus, captures the look and feel for the times that reflect, in some ways, an urban version of "Stand By Me" in the earlier part of the film and Levinson does a very professional job on his direction duties. Where his strength lies is in drawing out brilliant performances from his impressively assembled cast: Throughout an abundance of familiar names, it's Patric (playing writer, Carcaterra) that get's the most focus but the rest still get enough to work with; Bacon verges on the stereotypical side but still channels an effective sadistic presence; Pitt, in a lesser role (when he was still on the rise) captures the cocksure arrogance required and the always reliable and masterful Hoffman brings a lot of depth and humour with his subtle mannerisms. At the risk of sounding biased, though, it's DeNiro that impresses most as the avuncular priest, Father Bobby. He delivers one of the most endearing and charismatic performances of his career and happens to have a moment in the film where his expression is solely focussed on, as he hears about the tragic and abusive events that took place. He doesn't utter a word, but his pain, anguish and compassion is expressed entirely and powerfully within his eyes. The only drawback amongst the performances is that the greats of DeNiro and Hoffman don't get a chance to share much screen time together. (In fairness, Levinson rectified this in his later movie "Wag The Dog" and subsequently they have shared the screen in the "Meet The Parents" sequels). These two fantastic actors have never really went toe-to-toe on dramatic terms, though, and this film seems like a missed opportunity on that level. As for the structure itself, it's a film of two halves; the first concentrating on the boys' high jinks (again, with great performances from it's young actors - Joe Perrino and Brad Renfro being the standouts) while the latter half descends into a formulaic courtroom drama which stretches credulity and eschews any form of logic in order to deliver the drama. It's during this, that the "true" nature of the story becomes seriously questionable and we're also left with an overhanging, dubious message on justice. Despite these issues, though, there are many highlights to be found and at nearly two and half hours long, it's never dull. Whether or not it's true is another matter but at the very least, Carcaterra has written an emotional and involving tale.
Flawed and uneven with a conclusion that simply doesn't convince, but if you're able to sidestep these faults then there's still a great film at it's core.

Mark Walker

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer


Barry Levinson's tense drama, with great cast become a breathtaking and moving cinematography adaptation of the controversial bestseller.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer

Sleepers Quotes

– Submitted by Denver N (2 years ago)
– Submitted by Sandra R (4 years ago)
– Submitted by Chris P (4 years ago)
– Submitted by Chris P (4 years ago)

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