Sleepers (1996)

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Reviewed by Jesse from Film Reverse



When a harmless prank takes a turn for the worse, four close friends are sent away to serve time at the Wilkinson Home, a prison for boys. The Home is a disturbing place where its guests are tortured, sexually assaulted and live day to day at the mercy of the guards. Traumatized upon release, the boys have no choice but to attempt to move on with their lives and forget their experience. However, one day they run into an old friend that gives them an opportunity for the revenge they desire.

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Sleepers starts off promising as we’re introduced to four young boys who live in Hell’s Kitchen, a tough neighborhood in West Side Manhattan that hosts a mixture of Irish, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and East Europeans. The first half of the film is captivating but difficult to watch at times, especially during some of the prison scenes. After the film progresses thirteen years further into the boys’ lives, it starts to drag and turns cliche. The ending is a disappointment as it’s fairly predictable and underwhelming.

Robert De Niro is slightly underused as he only appears for small parts of the film. He plays Father Bobby, a priest who is a role model to the group of boys. De Niro delivers a good performance but seems to be held back at times. This is not his worst but it is far from his best. Although his performance never really goes above and beyond, De Niro does a decent job for what he has to work with and portrays a convincing priest.

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Based on the best selling book, Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra, the story caused quite a bit of controversy due to its based on true events claim. Details of the story have been challenged by various groups such as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. The accuracy of the events seems like just a gimmick to increase sales and interest. Regardless if true or not, the film is still dull and mediocre.

Sleepers had the potential to be a captivating film but in the end, the filmmakers played it safe and created a decent revenge flick that’s easily forgettable. It’s not worth the time as there are plenty of other similar films that are more entertaining. With such a talented cast and interesting premise, Sleepers fails to deliver the thrilling revenge tale it appears to be.

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21 thoughts on “Sleepers (1996)

  1. I do agree that the film falls prey to cliche towards the end Jesse but on the whole I actually quite liked it. I didn’t find it dull at all and I thought DeNiro was very appealing here. The scene where the boys disclose to Father Bobby what happened to them is a genius piece of acting. There is no talking between the characters, only a VoiceOver as it focuses on the hurt, pain and anger on DeNiro face. It’s subtle but outstandingly delivered. Probably my favourite scene of the film actually.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s got an interesting start and you feel like it might go somewhere really impressive, and then it just… coasts.

  3. Good review. 🙂 You’re probably right about it being forgettable since I know I’ve seen it but can’t say I remember much about it! Hell, I didn’t even remember that De Niro was in it. 😉

  4. I really liked this film… but then I saw it when it first came out when I was about fifteen and my tastes were a little less sophisticated than they are now. I still think it’s a pretty compelling story though, despite the cliched elements.

  5. There have been some very interesting reviews so far for this list. And some tough reviewing; which I’m all in favour of! It’s been ages since I saw this, but don’t recall it being particularly memorable. Strong work here.

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