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Review of Sleepers, an American Legal Crime Drama

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Sleepers Movie
Editorial Credit: IMDB

Sleepers is a 1996 crime drama, based on the bestselling book of the same name, released in 1995. Sleepers has drama, it has mystery, and it has suspense, culminating in a satisfying two and a half-hour run time, that leaves the audience with all questions answered, and a lot to think about. Director Barry Levinson ensures that we have no need for breaks or moments of inattention during the movie, thanks to the intertwining plot that spans over the lifetimes of the characters in question. Critics at the time of release gave it mostly favorable and positive reviews, and audiences around the world have enjoyed watching and discussing the movie for the past 20 years.

Sleepers Dustin Hoffman

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Sleepers Nominated For An Academy Award

Sleepers was nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Best Music, Original Dramatic Score’. Thanks to the fine and careful work of John Williams, who created the music for series such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter, as well as stand-alone movies like War of the Worlds, the scene is perfectly set via the use of music. The background use of sound and music helps to set the dark tone of the film, lifting it in moments of reprieve, and mixing tones in moments of intrigue. It’s just another part of the hit for fans of the movie, and helps to keep those new to the drama and/or thriller genre interested. 

A Tale of Revenge

Sleepers has a long winding and overarching plot, that keeps the audience on the toes and their minds constantly working to keep up. Thanks to the pacing of the movie, and the clear acting involved, it’s not hard to be drawn in and kept rapt whilst the plot moves on. There’s some amazing talent involved in this movie’s production, with the likes of Kevin Bacon, Dustin Hoffman, Robert de Niro, and even Brad Pitt as the top billables on the poster and DVD cover.

At its heart, Sleepers is a tale of revenge. It’s a tale of lost childhood, and the need to regain the innocence and imagination of that time, in an otherwise dark and beaten world where everyone has to try and make their own way. Set against the backdrop of Hell’s Kitchen, a suburb of New York City, a group of young boys are sent to a group home for boys for the length of a year, after almost killing an elderly man in a prank.

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Whilst there, these boys are subject to extreme and unrelenting abuse at the hands of the guards, employed and under oath to protect the inhabitants of the home. It’s this mix of power abuse, misused authority, and subjection to the darkest of human nature, which makes the second half of the movie so cathartic and deserved in the audiences’ eyes.

Of course, at no point does the narrative take a 180 turn, and make the hints of the past something the boys can cope with on a long term basis. The characters end up in positions that would make sense, whilst yet being bittersweet and downright tragic in their turn. It’s a long ride that takes commitment, but the movie is a real experience.

The narrative, when at its best, enlists the audience to feel even hints of sympathy for the villainous, worst criminals in New York City. It’s a rich, interwoven fabric in the world of narrative play, and this kind of quality does not fade away as the runtime moves on. 

A Rich Cast of Characters

As mentioned above, Sleepers has quite the cast, with both newcomers and established stars alike taking up the roles. The movie combines a good mix of child and adult actors and good pacing between switching between the two groups. They perform their roles to perfection and sell the narrative to the audience with deep feeling and sensible motivations that any viewer would understand. 

The character of ‘Shakes’, most specifically, is drawn into the limelight. Acting as the narrator, and told from a more removed, grown-up perspective, the audiences join the narrative at its most crucial moment. Shakes helps to act as the mediator of the ensemble cast, drawing all of the characters together in the moments they need it most. 

Sleepers: The Final Word

Sleepers is a relatively famous, if not a controversial, movie that most people have heard of, if not seen. If you’re a fan of the crime genre, and appreciate the fine weavings of drama, watch this movie.

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