Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Barry Levinson
|Screenplay by||Barry Levinson|
by Lorenzo Carcaterra
Robert De Niro
|Music by||John Williams|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$165.6 million|
Lorenzo "Shakes" Carcaterra, Thomas "Tommy" Marcano, Michael Sullivan, and John Reilly are childhood friends in Hell's Kitchen, New York City in the mid-1960s. The local priest, Father Robert "Bobby" Carillo, plays an important part in their lives and keeps an eye on them. However, early on they start running small errands for a local mafia gangster, "King" Benny.
In the summer of 1967, their lives take a turn when they nearly kill a man after pulling a prank on a hot dog vendor. As punishment, Tommy, Michael, and John are sentenced to serve 12 to 18 months at the Wilkinson Home for Boys in Upstate New York while Shakes is sentenced to 6 to 12 months. There, the boys are systematically abused and raped by guards Sean Nokes, Henry Addison, Ralph Ferguson, and Adam Styler. The horrifying abuse changes the boys and their friendship forever. Out of shame, they urge their parents in letters not to visit during their stay at the home. Not even to Father Bobby, who insists on visiting, can they speak openly about these events.
During the boys' stay at the home, they participate in Wilkinson's annual football game between the overseers and inmates, and usually it is clear which team will be victorious. Michael convinces "Rizzo", an intimidating black inmate, that this time the guards should not win out of fear of consequences if the boys withstand, but instead they should hit back as hard as possible. Rizzo agrees and the five and a few more fight on and beat the wardens in front of all others watching their disgrace. As a result of this, Shakes, Tommy, Michael, and John are all beaten and thrown into solitary confinement for several weeks, and some of the overseers who lost (including Nokes and his friends) brutally beat Rizzo to death.
Later on, shortly before Shakes's release from Wilkinson, he insists that they should publicly report the abuse they've suffered, but the other boys refuse, not wanting to keep reliving the horrors and knowing that their claims, in spite of their genuineness, would never be believed or cared about. They all therefore vow never to speak of the horrors and abuse the guards put them through once they're all out.
Fourteen years later, John and Tommy, now known and feared gang leaders, kill Nokes, in front of witnesses, after a chance encounter in a Hell's Kitchen pub. Michael, who has become an assistant district attorney, arranges to be assigned to the case, secretly intending to botch the prosecution. He and Shakes, who is writing for a newspaper, forge a plan to get retaliation on all the guards who abused them. With the help of others, including Carol, their childhood friend and now a social worker, and mobster King Benny, they carry out their revenge using information compiled by Michael on the background and lives of the former Wilkinson overseers. They also hire Daniel "Danny" Snyder, a washed-up lawyer and alcoholic, for the defence of John and Tommy to make it seem as if the situation is hopeless for them.
Michael is trying hard to lose his battle in court to free the two accused, without pointing to any connection between him, the victim and the perpetrators, and at the same time gaining their revenge for the events at the Wilkinson home. This seems only possible by discrediting Nokes, who was the victim, and placing John and Tommy at another location. The former warden Ferguson, when called in court as witness for the victims' character, exposes himself, Nokes, and other guards as abusers, but to clinch the case a key witness is needed who can give John and Tommy an alibi. Shakes has a long talk with Father Bobby, who first resists but eventually, after Shakes tells him of the abuse in the Wilkinson Home for Boys, agrees to lie on the stand by testifying the accused were with him and all three were at a New York Knicks basketball game at the time of the shooting. As a result, John and Tommy are acquitted. The remaining overseers are also punished for their crimes: Addison, an upcoming politician, is beaten up and killed by a drug gang, in retaliation for his part in the death of Rizzo-who happened to have been the younger brother of "Little Caesar", the gang leader; Styler, now a corrupt policeman, and still a pedophile, accused of extorting from and killing a drug dealer, is exposed and arrested.
In the aftermath, Lorenzo, who has got his fix job as newspaper reporter, is still living in Hell's Kitchen, while Michael quits as district attorney and moves to the English countryside, where he becomes a carpenter. John (dead from alcohol abuse) and Tommy (shot dead), drug users and suspected murderers in other cases, both do not reach their 30th birthdays. Carol also stays in the city as a social worker and becomes a single mother to a son, who she names after all of the four boys.
- Jason Patric as adult Lorenzo "Shakes" Carcaterra
- Brad Pitt as adult Michael Sullivan
- Brad Renfro as young Michael
- Billy Crudup as adult Thomas "Tommy" Marcano
- Jonathan Tucker as young Tommy
- Ron Eldard as adult John Reilly
- Geoffrey Wigdor as young John
- Minnie Driver as adult Carol
- Monica Polito as young Carol
- Robert De Niro as Father Bobby Carillo
- Kevin Bacon as Sean Nokes
- Bruno Kirby as Shakes father
- Dustin Hoffman as Danny Snyder
- Jeffrey Donovan as Henry Addison
- Lennie Loftin as Adam Styler
- Terry Kinney as Ralph Ferguson
- Vittorio Gassman as King Benny
- John Slattery as Ron Carlson
- Daniel Mastrogiorgio as Nick Davenport
- Wendell Pierce as Little Caesar
- James Pickens Jr. as Marlboro/Mess hall guard
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- Synopsis at director Barry Levinson's website