Directed by Barry Levinson in 1996, Sleepers was rumored to be based on fact, although the film's lack of factual credibility may have accounted for its sleepy numbers at the box office. Despite low critical appeal, Minnie Driver picked up a Best Supporting Actress win at the London Critics Circle Film Awards and John Williams' score earned the film an Oscar nomination. The film is based on a book by Lorenzo Carcaterra.
Sleepers is the story of four young teenage boys growing up in Hell's Kitchen. The respective young--and later adult--boys are played by Joseph Perrino and Jason Patric (Lorenzo "Shakes"--the film's narrator), Brad Renfro and Brad Pitt (Michael), Jonathan Tucker and Billy Crudup (Tommy) and Geoffrey Wigdor and Ron Eldard (Tom). Other big-name stars of the film include Minnie Driver, who plays Brad Pitt's girlfriend Carol; Robert DeNiro, the helpful ex-con priest Father Bobby; Kevin Bacon, the sadistic prison guard Sean Nokes; and Dustin Hoffman, who plays Danny, the inadequate defense lawyer for Tommy and John.
The opening "Sleepers" introduces four troublemaking but generally harmless Catholic boys, Shakes, Michael, Jon and Tom. Shakes is the leader and most dangerous, as he runs errands for Hell's Kitchen mob-boss King Benny. In the first act of the film, the four boys play a prank on a hot dog vendor to steal a bite to eat. While the hot dog vender chases Michael, the other three boys move his cart to a nearby subway entrance, where it accidentally drops down, nearly killing an elderly man.
The four boys are arrested for their crime and sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys for one year, although Shakes is given a six-month sentence at the request of Father Bobby. Out of their element among more seasoned juvenile delinquents, the four boys are quickly beaten down by four guards, including the head guard, Sean Nokes. Eventually, the guard's behavior escalates to both sexual and physical abuse in the center's basement. As Shakes' release date approaches, the boys swear to keep the rapings and beatings secret.
The Second Crime
Ten years later, Tommy and John are members of the Hell's Kitchen gang, Michael is an assistant district attorney and Shakes is a newspaper columnist. In a chance encounter, Tommy and John run into Sean Nokes at a bar, who recognizes them and taunts them. Tommy and John shoot Nokes as retribution. Michael, with the help of Shakes, King Benny and Father Bobby, decides to take Tommy and Jon's legal case in an effort to bring light to the horrors of the Wilkinson Home for Boys. Father Bobby ends up being the wild card, as he lies to vouch for the boys' alibi. Tommy and John are released, but die before their 30th birthdays of alcohol poisoning and gang-related violence. Michael moves to London, while Shakes continues on in Hell's Kitchen working for the local paper.