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|Festivale Spring 1996|
(Reviews Nov. 7, 1996)
|Sleepers is an excursion into the dank and murky depths where sex and brutality meet.
Shakespeare said that jealousy mocked the meat it fed on. In Sleepers, the guards at Wilkinson Home for Boys brutalise and rape and generally feed upon the fear and vulnerability of their charges.
The central plot device of this film is child abuse - a busy subject at the moment. But Sleepers does not attempt to explain why the violence happens, it does not answer the question of how sex and torture can be party games for a group of young men.
|Commences November 7, 1996|
|Sleepers handles are difficult subject with some style. Most of the violence and sexual abuse are off-camera -- a bit like the films of yesteryear where the cries of unseen victims could be more haunting that blatant demonstrations.
The film begins and ends in Hells Kitchen, New York. A hard place where hard men lived - and beat their families. The four young friends sunbathe on tenement roofs, avoid their father's brutality, steal hot dogs and deliver bribes to the police from the local crime king.
|It is during one of their joyful forays into crime that they literally nearly kill a man with a hot dog vendor's cart. And so four altar boys are sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys, despite the efforts of Father Bobby (de Niro).|
|Now they are 'sleepers'. For the next year or so they are left to the untender mercies of Sean Nokes, played with brutal lasciviousness by Kevin Bacon, and his cronies.|
|From then on the film is filled with dark tunnels and over-exposed monochromatic scenes designed to suggest horror without portraying it too clearly. Top marks for not giving way to gratuitous shots - perhaps we are all fortunate that the subject was boys and not girls, male victims are less attractive it seems.
The boys swear never to tell of their trials, and they become a lawyer, a would-be journalist, and a pair of senseless drugged-out murderers.
When the murderous pair, as adults, meet their tormentor the film should take off (albeit a little late in the story). But it doesn't. The boy-men kill their ex-captor, and Michael (Brad Pitt) begins his devious scheme to defend them and denounce Wilkinson and the torturing guards while all the time he is acting as the prosecutor.
Dustin Hoffman as the alcoholic defense attorney well past his prime is fun to watch, but there is no tension in the film. We are not breathless, somehow we know that the neighbourhood will band together and free the 'boys'. The guard does break down - but is it convincing?
Father Bobby's moral dilemma is a cold and distant wrestling with his issues. Brad Pitt is contained to the point of sulkiness.
Levison spends a lot of time showing us the lives of the boys in an effort to engage our sympathy. But the real tension, the real drama should have been in the Courtroom and the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring. The boys and their supporters conduct a Mission Impossible, but the tempo never seems to pick up.
The audience were very quiet during this film. Several sequences relied on what was unsaid and unheard and the audience took it without a cough, but there were no sudden cries of shock, and no collective release of held breath.
|Watchable, useful if it promotes discussion, but uninspiring||.. by Ali Kayn (Nov, 96)|
see John Dillane's review
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Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia copyright © Festivale 1996 All rights reserved
Filed: 7-Nov-1996 Last updated: 22-Dec-2008 Last tested: 3-Jul-2014
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