Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Favorite Scene: Sleepers


Warning: Critical plot details will be divulged in this post. The ending will be spoiled.


Sleepers, Barry Levinson’s criminally underrated film, is the best movie I have ever seen that chronicles the after effects of victimization. The plot, briefly, is the true story about four Hell’s Kitchen teens who pull a childish prank that goes very wrong, nearly killing an innocent man. The boys are sent up for a year to a juvenile home for boys where they are subjected to random, yet frequent, physical and sexual attacks by four guards.

Flash forward 15 years. Two of the boys have grown up to become gang leaders who abuse drugs and murder at random or for money. Those two bump into the head guard (Kevin Bacon, in his best screen role) from way back and blow his brains out. Another boy, Michael (Brad Pitt), has grown into a lawyer and takes the case against his two friends. Why? To get them off. All of this is narrated, rather marvelously, by Jason Patric, the last of the four boys.

This film is full of lasting scenes. The two minute, unbroken shot of Robert De Niro (a loyal priest to his neighborhood boys) as he listens to Patric describe the horror they endured at the juvenile home, comes to mind. But the shining moment of the film is its last one.

As the four friends, along with their pal Carol (Minnie Driver), sit around a table in a private room of a New York restaurant, Patric, via narration, briefly goes through the fates of each man. The two killers, he says, died gruesome deaths only years later, never leaving their life of crime, even after receiving a shot at redemption. Patric says of himself that he was promoted at his newspaper job, covering the entertainment beat, but the haunting realism is found in Michael’s description.
Patric says that Michael has now moved to the Irish countryside. He no longer practices law, and he has never married. Then, with one of the most subtlety genuine lines of narration I’ve ever heard, he tells us that Michael lives quietly and alone. “He lives quietly and alone.” There is something about those five words, taken directly from Lorenzo Carcaterra’s memoir, that says it all. That one sentence embodies everything that goes along with being victimized.

People subjected to abuse can go several ways. That’s what makes Sleepers such a fascinating story. The boys all experience the same crimes, yet they all deal with them differently. Whether it was to express themselves physically with violence. Or to bury the pain down as deep as it can go, almost denying it ever happened, or to continue life elsewhere, away from everyone you know, quietly and alone. It’s only one line of dialogue, but that line has stayed with me over a decade after having first watched the film.

Please, if you’ve never seen Sleepers, find it. Rent it, put it in your Netflix queue, or buy it off Amazon for $7.99. Either way, you won’t be sorry, and who knows, you may even discover something about yourself.

8 comments:

  1. One of my favorite movies. I actually somehow discovered it only a few months before Mystic River and like them both equally for similar reasons, the reasons you've discussed in this post. I found it walking through Blockbuster and saw the cast and dvd cover, thinking to myself something about how have I never heard of a film with such an awesome cast? And then I fell in love with it.

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    1. Nice man. Fucking love Sleepers. I only wish more people would see it.

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  2. Truly criminal so few people have seen this film and fewer still recognize its genius. It has stayed among my all time favorites since the first time I saw it 6 years ago- and this scene is among my personal favorites also. The PERFECT end to a film. The moment we see Noakes in the bar after their release is fucking flawless too. Makes you FEEL JUST what he feels. Fantastic film. One of the best.

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    1. Hell yeah man. I really love that scene you mentioned too. When Ron Eldard stares at himself in that bathroom mirror and smiles... fucking hell. I adore this movie.

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    2. God there's so many parts of it I love. That one shot where Noakes slides across the window of the cafeteria? Such a slimy bastard. Lotta people hate Kevin Bacon but if anything that one shot is as good evidence as any to the fact that he can (or at least COULD) act.

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    3. LOVE that shot. And I've always enjoyed Bacon's work. All the way back to Diner.

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  3. Its strange coming back to Sleepers many movies later (still my second favorite) and questioning which I think has THE best ending: Is it this? Is it the overwhelming beauty of The Leopard? Is it the quite literally nightmarish hell of The Ascent? The brazenly sentimental gold that is Cinema Paradiso's closing montage? Magnolia or Once Upon A Time In America's oh-so-satisfying smile? Chinatown? I can never tell.

    What about you Alex: Have you got a favorite movie ending? Maybe even a... top 10 list of them? ;D

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    1. Man, that's a great idea. But I think ultimately it would be another way to list my favorite movies of all time. Because in order for me to really love a movie, I have to love its ending, you know? So I think 10 of my Top 20 films would probably make up the list. Probably.

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