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Sleepers (movie poster).jpg
North American theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Levinson
Screenplay byBarry Levinson
Based onSleepers
by Lorenzo Carcaterra
Produced by
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byStu Linder
Music byJohn Williams
Distributed byWarner Bros. (North America)
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment[1][2] (International)
Release date
  • October 18, 1996 (1996-10-18)
Running time
147 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$44 million[4]
Box office$165.6 million[5]

Sleepers is a 1996 American legal crime drama film written, produced, and directed by Barry Levinson, and based on Lorenzo Carcaterra's 1995 book of the same name. The film stars Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Vittorio Gassman, Brad Renfro, Jeffrey Donovan, Terry Kinney, Joe Perrino, Geoffrey Wigdor, Jonathan Tucker and Billy Crudup (his acting film debut).


Lorenzo "Shakes" Carcaterra, Tommy Marcano, Michael Sullivan, and John Reilly are childhood friends in Hell's Kitchen in the mid-1960s. Father Robert "Bobby" Carillo, their parish priest, is a father figure to 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. Sentenced to the Wilkinson Home for Boys in Upstate New York, the boys are physically and sexually abused by guards Sean Nokes, Henry Addison, Ralph Ferguson, and Adam Styler. The abuse changes them and their friendship forever.

During their stay at the facility, they participate in Wilkinson's annual football game between the guards and inmates. Michael convinces Rizzo, a black inmate, to play as hard as they can to show the guards they can fight back. He agrees, and helps win the game. Humiliated, the guards inflict severe beatings on the boys, put them in solitary confinement for weeks, and beat Rizzo to death, telling his family he died of pneumonia.

In the spring of 1968, shortly before Shakes' release from Wilkinson, he suggests they publicly report the abuse. The others refuse, with Michael asserting that no one would believe them, or care. They then decide never to speak of the abuse — even after they are all released. The night before Shakes is released, Nokes and the other guards arrange a "farewell party" in which the four boys are brutally abused.

In 1981, 13 years later, John and Tommy – now career criminals – unexpectedly encounter Nokes, now a private security guard, by chance in a Hell's Kitchen pub. They confront Nokes, and he dismisses the abuse he put them through. John and Tommy shoot him dead in front of witnesses. Michael, who has become an assistant district attorney, gets himself assigned to the case; he secretly intends to botch the prosecution and expose what the guards did and Wilkinson's role in the cover-up.

Michael and Shakes, now a reporter, forge a plan to free John and Tommy and get revenge on the remaining abusers. With the help of others (including King Benny and their childhood friend Carol, a social worker), 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, alcoholic lawyer, to defend John and Tommy.

The plan will only work if Michael can damage Nokes' reputation and place John and Tommy at another location at the time of the shooting. Ferguson, when called as a witness for Nokes' character, admits 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 – reluctantly agrees to perjure himself. At trial, Father Bobby testifies 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 it. 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 imprisoned for taking bribes and murdering a drug dealer; and Ferguson, a social worker, loses his job and family as a result of his admission in court.

Michael, Shakes, John, Tommy, and Carol meet at a bar to celebrate. It is the last occasion when the four men are together. Shakes remains a 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; neither of them lives to see age 30. Carol also stays in Hell's Kitchen as a social worker; she has a son and names him after the four boys.



Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an overall approval rating of 73% based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 6.60/10.[6] Review aggregator Metacritic gives it a weighted average score of 49 out of 100 based on 18 critics,[7] indicating "mixed or average reviews".

Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend the film grossed $12,305,745 million in 1,915 theaters in the United States and Canada, debuting atop of box office. Sleepers grossed $53,315,285 million domestically and $112,300,000 million internationally for a worldwide total of $165,615,285 million.[8]


Group Category Recipient(s) Outcome
Academy Awards Best Original Dramatic Score John Williams Nominated
London Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress Minnie Driver Won
YoungStar Awards Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film Brad Renfro Nominated
Joe Perrino Nominated
Young Artist Awards Best Young Leading Actor - Feature Film Nominated
Best Young Supporting Actor - Feature Film Geoffrey Wigdor Nominated

Home media[edit]

The film was released in DVD on November 3, 2009 and also in Blu-Ray on August 2, 2011.


  1. ^ "Sleepers (35mm)". Australian Classification Board. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Sleepers (1996)". BBFC. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  3. ^ "SLEEPERS (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1996-10-21. Retrieved 2013-05-15.
  4. ^ "Sleepers (1996) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC.
  5. ^ Sleepers at Box Office Mojo
  6. ^ Sleepers at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Sleepers at Metacritic
  8. ^ "Sleepers (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2021-10-15.

External links[edit]