With a cast that includes names like DeNiro, Hoffman, Pitt and Bacon, how could Sleepers, the 1996 adaptation of Lorenzo Carcaterra’s excellent novel of the same name possibly fail to be anything other than spectacular? Some fifteen years after the film arrived in cinemas to generally good critical reception that largely disproved Carcaterra’s claim that the story- whose beautiful writing finds its equal in Barry Levinson’s exceptional screenplay, and now the film is finally available to buy on blu-ray.
It is difficult to offer any review of Sleepers that does not cast an envious eye towards the phenomenal cast list- including an excellent, understated Robert DeNiro (with his trademark intensity bubbling just out of sight) and an excellent, total-immersion performance by the ever-brilliant Dustin Hoffman. Other highlights include Kevin Bacon’s near sub-human prison guard Nokes, Vittoria Gassman’s authentic and utterly believable mob boss and Ron Eldard’s troubled, and explosive (I genuinely love Eldard in most things I’ve seen him in, and wish he would work more).
The only problem with the cast is that Pitt and Jason Patric were probably wrongly given the chance to play the best parts of the four boy group, since both Billy Crudup and Ron Eldard are exceptional, and offer far more mature and measured performances as the murderous duo behind Nokes’ death. Despite Pitt and Patric’s relatively higher star quality at the time of the film, it would perhaps have been nicer to see the grittier pair handling the more complex roles, as either may well have fleshed out Patric’s character in a manner that the Speed 2 actor seems to struggle with.
Okay so the moral fibre of the film is somewhat dubious, since it encourages us to celebrate the grown-up boys’ triumph over their tormentors and over the law system that would see them punished for taking their own revenge, but this film is a fantasy for the down-trodden- a promise that every victim will find justice, no matter what the method. What complicates moral matters even more is that the script then ensures that the boys get their own come-uppance, and it is extremely difficult to judge what the film is actually saying about the dead boys in that tagged on Epilogue. Are we supposed to cheer their final victory, and mourn them as tragedies of a system that utterly deserted them, or are we supposed to feel safe in our Middle Class homes, glad that the bad men got their just desserts?
Anyway, all moral issues aside, Sleepers looks great- it has a very slick and stylish aesthetic that does justice to the strength of the script and some of the central performances (Hoffman, Bacon and DeNiro especially). It’s definitely worth a watch, though whether the blu-ray is actually worth your money is a different story entirely…
Sleepers looks about as lack-lustre as possible: it is mediocrity personified, and is another uninspiring Universal back-catalogue re-release. Many more of them and I’m going to be totally turned off of the studio entirely. Colours are acceptable, without ever looking spectacular (and yes, muted palettes can still look spectacular), detail and textures are largely competent, but never anywhere near actual high-definition quality, because of the obvious proliferation of the kind of intrusive digital manipulations that always pepper these obligatory blu-ray reviews.
Sound-wise Sleepers suffers from the usual Universal thread-bare blu-ray problems: the volume control is all over the place, so dialogue is too quiet on what I would consider normal volume (I’m very exacting about how my TV is programmed down to the smallest characteristic), and then hugely too loud when you turn it up to try and balance the level of dialogue and incidental sound. I mean it’s all clean enough, but the prioritising problems are so off-putting that that redeeming factor becomes almost entirely redundant.
Not a dickie-bird.
Sleepers is available to buy on blu-ray now.