Blast from the past

Sleepers: Brad Pitt’s Underrated Masterpiece


Ok, I presume you’ve heard about this dude. Yeah, I’m talking about Brad Pitt. You have? Good.

Well, Brad is on his way to win the second Oscar in his career, his first in an acting category. He’s a strong favorite to win in the Best supporting actor category, and  for his performance in Once Upon A Time In America, he already won the Golden Globe and SAG award.

He’s been a steady presence in Hollywood in the past 30 years or so and has an impressive movie portfolio to prove it. But I’m here to remind you of an AMAZING yet very underrated movie of his that very few people have even heard of (let alone actually seen it). Sleepers.

Roger Ebert gave the movie three out of four stars (although he did criticize the movie for being homophobic), but to this day I claim that it’s one of the best movies is Pitt’s career. What’s it about you might ask? Well, i must preface the post by saying that the plot spans several decades.

The movie starts in mid-60’s in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of NY. Brad is Michael – one of four carefree gullible childhood friends (Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra, Tommy Marcano, Michael Sullivan, and John Reilly to be precise) . All of them are easily bought by the rampant mafia that dominates the neighborhood, but for the most part they’re either trying to earn an extra buck, or just to enjoy themselves. They’re all latchkey kids without much adult supervision, but the boys have the local priest, Father Robert “Bobby” Carillo (played by Robert DeNiro) for guidance and support in the tough environment. However, when an accident puts them in Juvenile detention home, the four of them will become victims of the notorious guards that run the place. They’ll suffer months and months of sexual and physical abuse, and the experience will change them. Cut to the early ’80s and two of them are full-blown criminals while the other half of the boys are now respected members of society. The criminals, however, will find one of the guards that abused them (Kevin Bacon) and kill him in front of everyone to see, but Michael (Brad Pitt) Shakes (Jason Patric) and their childhood friend Carol (Minnie Driver) are going to move Heaven and Earth to get them off jail. They’ll even convince a priest to commit a perjury in court.

Let’s start with the fact that Barry Levinson (yes that Barry Levinson) wrote and directed this 147 minutes long movie. Based on the book of the same name (written by Lorenzo Carcaterra), Sleepers is a modern-day tale of Count Of Monte Christo. Revenge that’s brewing and brewing among these four men for years but if you thought that the team behind the camera (Barry Levingston, John Williams) is impressive, wait until you read the A-listers that appear in front of the camera. Brad and Jason are top-notch as always as the two leads, but there are also Billy Crudup, Ron Eldard, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver, Terry Kinney, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro on the roster. Oh, and let’s not forget that the younger versions of the four characters are played by Joe Perrino, Geoffrey Wigdor, Jonathan Tucker, and the late Brad Renfro. Stellar actors as well – don’t you think?

John Williams received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Dramatic Score (of course), and Sleepers was both commercial and critical success back in 1996. However, I feel like that it’s not that well known among the film buffs, now in 2020. Why is that? It was the only movie release of Brad Pitt in 1996, and Sleepers was released just months after his first Academy Award nominations (for 12 Monkeys) – one of the reasons that i feel contribute to the status of an underrated masterpiece.  I really can’t help but mention that Sleepers deserved a lot more love back in the 90’s.

But let’s put Brad to the side for a moment. Several of the actors that appear in the movie were either big shot legendary actors (DeNiro, Hoffman) or were younger but equally established and respectable actors (Renfro, Patric, and Bacon). Back in the mid 90’s Minnie Driver was breaking away into Hollywood nicely, and she was  just year shy of starring in Good Will Hunting (the movie that she’s most known for). Oh, and back in 1996, Ron Eldard was starring in Men Behaving Badly (one of the best TV shows of all time). So yeah. Every single one of the actors was bad-ass in his own right.

The movie is long, very hard to watch, very brutal but very engaging. It was extremely well written, really well directed and fantastically acted. And although the author of the book, Lorenzo Carcaterra has claimed that Sleepers is a true story of his childhood, several reporters made a real-life investigation of the events that are depicted in the movie and found no evidence to back-up the claim of Carcaterra. I don’t know the truth, and after seeing the movie i don’t really want to know.

An interesting trivia detail about Sleepers is the fact that Sleepers is the film debut of Billy Crudup, and both DeNiro and Hoffman collaborated again with the director Barry Levingston the very next year (1997) when they both appeared in Wag The Dog. Cool ha?

I adore Sleepers. Give it a chance and watch it if you have the time. It will haunt you and it will move you but you won’t be able to forget it, for days and days to come. It’s a truly underrated masterpiece in Brad Pitt’s career.


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