Sleeper [1973]

The first thing you need to know about Sleepers is that it's based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra that was allegedly based on a true story. The movie repeats this bogus claim, which was attacked and determined by a wide majority to be misleading. Knowing this, Sleepers can be a problematic movie because it's too neat, too clean, too manipulative in terms of legal justice and dramatic impact to be truly convincing. And yet, with its stellar cast directed by Barry Levinson, the movie succeeds as gripping entertainment, and its tale of complex morality--despite a dubious emphasis on homophobic revenge--is sufficiently provocative. It's about four boys in New York's Hell's Kitchen district who are sent to reform school, where they must endure routine sexual assaults by the sadistic guards. Years after their release, the opportunity for revenge proves irresistible for two of the young men, who must then rely on the other pair of friends (Brad Pitt, Jason Patric), a loyal priest (Robert De Niro), and a shabby lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) to defend them in court. Despite the compelling ambiguities of the story, there's never any doubt about how we're supposed to feel, and the screenplay glosses over the story's most difficult moral dilemmas. And yet, Sleepers grabs your attention and pulls you into its intense story of friendship and the price of loyalty under extreme conditions. The movie's New York settings are vividly authentic, and Minnie Driver makes a strong impression as a long-time friend of the loyal group of guys. --Jeff Shannon

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