Sleepers is a 1996 American legal crime drama film written, produced, and directed by Barry Levinson, and based on Lorenzo Carcaterra's 1995 novel of the same name. The film stars Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver and Vittorio Gassman.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Levinson
Produced by
Screenplay byBarry Levinson
Based onSleepers
by Lorenzo Carcaterra
Narrated byJason Patric
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byStu Linder
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • October 18, 1996 (1996-10-18)
Running time
147 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$44 million[2]
Box office$165.6 million[3]


Lorenzo "Shakes" Carcaterra, Tommy Marcano, Michael Sullivan, and John Reilly are childhood friends in Hell's Kitchen in the mid-1960s. The local priest, Father Robert "Bobby" Carillo, serves as a father figure to the boys and keeps an eye on them. However, they start running small errands for a local gangster, King Benny.

In the summer of 1967, they accidentally injure a man while robbing a hot dog vendor. The boys are sentenced to the Wilkinson Home for Boys in Upstate New York; Tommy, Michael, and John are sentenced to 12-18 months, while Shakes is given 6-12 months. There, the boys are systematically abused and raped by guards Sean Nokes, Henry Addison, Ralph Ferguson, and Adam Styler. The abuse changes the boys and their friendship forever.

During the boys' stay at the facility, they participate in Wilkinson's annual football game between the guards and inmates. Michael convinces Rizzo, a black inmate, that they should play as hard as they can to show the guards they can fight back. Rizzo agrees, and helps to win the game. As a result of this, all four boys are beaten and thrown into solitary confinement for several weeks, and Rizzo is beaten to death by the guards. They cover up Rizzo's murder by telling his family that he died of pneumonia.

By the spring of 1968, shortly before Shakes' release from Wilkinson, he insists that they should publicly report the abuse. The others refuse, with Michael asserting that anyone they told would either not believe their story or not care. The boys then decide never to speak of the abuse--even after they are all released.

Thirteen years later, John and Tommy now career criminals encounter Nokes, who now is a private security guard, by chance in a Hell's Kitchen pub and kill him in front of four witnesses. Michael, who has become an assistant district attorney, arranges to be assigned to the case; he secretly intends to botch the prosecution. He and Shakes, a newspaper reporter, forge a plan to free John and Tommy and get revenge on their surviving abusers. With the help of others (including King Benny and their childhood friend Carol), they carry out their plan using information compiled by Michael on the backgrounds of the former Wilkinson guards. They also hire Danny Snyder, a washed-up lawyer, to defend John and Tommy.

Michael's plan will only work if he can damage Nokes' reputation and place John and Tommy at another location at the time of the shooting. Ferguson, when called in court as a witness for Nokes' character, is forced to admit that he, Nokes, and other guards abused boys. To clinch the case, however, they need a key witness who can give John and Tommy an alibi. Shakes has a long talk with Father Bobby, who resists at first but - after hearing of the abuse - agrees to perjure himself. At trial, Father Bobby testifies that John and Tommy were with him at a New York Knicks game at the time of the shooting and has three ticket stubs to prove that they were at the game with him. As a result, John and Tommy are acquitted.

The remaining guards are also punished for their crimes: Addison, now a politician who still molests children, is killed by Little Caesar, a local drug kingpin and Rizzo's older brother; Styler, now a corrupt policeman, is arrested for taking bribes and murdering a drug dealer; and Ferguson, a social worker, loses his job and family and is plagued by guilt for the rest of his life.

Michael, Shakes, John, Tommy, and Carol meet at a bar to celebrate. Shakes remains a newspaper reporter, living in Hell's Kitchen. Michael quits the DA's office, moves to the English countryside, becomes a carpenter and never marries. John drinks himself to death and Tommy is murdered; both die before age 30. Carol stays in the city as a social worker and has a son, whom she names after the four boys.



The film received generally positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a score of 73%.[4] Review aggregator Metacritic gives it a weighted score of 49,[5] indicating "mixed or average reviews."

John Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score. Minnie Driver was selected as Best Supporting Actress by the London Film Critics Circle.


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