Note to moms: if you want your kids to grow up to the high-powered, island-buying lifestyle of a local movie critic, start taking them to the cinema at a young age.
Mine did, and that's why today I can almost afford to spread peanut butter on my saltines. Oh, some day ...
OK, so if it won't lead to riches, do it to give your children the most precious gift of all: memories of staring at a gigantic screen. From way back in 1996, I still recall Sleepers being a disturbing, engrossing film.
How's it look today?
After a prank goes bad, four young teens from Hell's Kitchen are sent to a year in juvenile detention. There, guard Kevin Bacon and his friends beat and abuse them. Years later, two of the boys are violent criminals -- and they're all ready to pay Bacon back for what he did.
Guess I was wrong. Nothing disturbing there -- oh, sweet lord. Why? Why would you do that, Kevin Bacon?
I mean, not the real Kevin Bacon, obviously. But this particular fake one. A spiteful, hateful man in love with his own power who, after a cafeteria scuffle, makes the boys eat their lunch off the floor.
He's also the glue that holds Sleepers together. You know how when you go out for drinks with your co-workers, if the conversation ever stalls out, you can just bring up that other employee who thinks showers are for tools of the utility companies?
Well, Bacon's like that. Whenever writer/director Barry Levinson needs to inject new drama into the somewhat slack second half, he can just flash back to a scene of Bacon doing terrible, awful things.
So it probably will come as no surprise that Sleepers is the kind of movie that provokes strong reactions, prompting even the most criminal-cuddling liberals to openly voice thoughts about stringing Bacon up and whacking him like a piata until he discovers a way to produce candy from his spleen. And then whacking him a few more times because that's obviously witchcraft right there.
Yet Levinson achieves this without ever getting too graphic. That second half can get a little melodramatic, but by and large, the most heinous stuff happens offscreen. Which ... well, good. There is such a thing as overkill. Unless it's directed at abusive prison guards.
A strong cast helps deflate Sleepers's occasional self-importance. Between Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, a small role from The Wire's Bunk, and some pretty good kid actors, the ship stays afloat.
If you ever want to get all upset and vindictive, Sleepers will put you right in the mood.
* Contact Ed Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.