Sleepers (1996)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Courtroom Drama, Crime Drama, Buddy Film, Reunion Films  |   Release Date - Oct 18, 1996 (USA)  |   Run Time - 148 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Barry Levinson's Sleepers courted controversy for a number of reasons. Not only was there uncertainty as to whether the purportedly true story really happened, but the Catholic Church also frowned upon one of its major plot points: a priest's struggle over whether or not to lie under oath to protect a pair of vigilantes who have clearly committed murder. If these issues prompted more people to see the film, that's just as well, because it contains some interesting elements beyond those listed above. One is that it convincingly details the struggle of a prosecutor (Brad Pitt) to intentionally botch his case, but subtly enough that it doesn't draw suspicion. Never mind that Levinson doesn't explain why no one makes the connection between Pitt and the two defendants (Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup), who were his childhood friends -- the courtroom scenes are deft enough to excuse the plot hole. Levinson returns to familiar territory in the film's earlier scenes, giving an assured portrait of life in big city ethnic neighborhoods in the 1960s. New York stands in for his native Baltimore, where many Levinson films are set, but the same issues of coming of age in an insular working-class community are explored. There are no outstanding performances, outside of Robert De Niro as the conflicted priest, but the all-star ensemble makes for a solid piece of entertainment with serious issues, some of them more familiar than others, at its core.