It’s a shame about Sleepers

I read the book Sleepers and then watched the film at the time, 13 and 14 years ago, then bought the film on VHS and more recently, recorded it on DVD when shown on TV. I think it’s only now the somewhat manufactured controversy surrounding the book and movie has died away with time, that it can be reviewed objectively.

The irony is, the media has taken general delight in showing up when autobiographies are untrue and since Lorenzo Carcaterra’s account was 20 years in the telling, the wide belief is that the book is false. Had Carcaterra put the word “FICTION” on the back of Sleepers, he would have been guaranteed an infinite amount of demands from the public and the media to know the book’s basis in reality instead – and been celebrated rather than vilified.

I read the book and went to the cinema to watch the film and bought the soundtrack, then bought the movie on VHS. A few years later it was one of several abuse books, true or fictional, that I gave away to a fellow survivor long before I got help. Now in therapy I’m grateful of the ad breaks in the TV version which break up the reform school section of the picture. Even though it was transmitted on one of those digital channels with a burned-in logo, in the wrong ratio, and with ads, the film is still powerful and mesmerizing.

With the way the abuse sequences have been filmed, it takes the power of TV drama The Boys of St Vincent and takes it to the big screen, with MTV jump-cutting and monochrome clipping to give you the idea, but let your imagination run wild as to what happened to these boys. Intercut with this sequence is the questioning of one of the guards. Had you read the book before seeing the film you would have had your imagination replaced by something a little less powerful, and one abuse scene shown to us in real time in the book, is made a flashback in the film with more than one character present. Ultimately the three acts of the film could have all made their own separate movies.

Since IMDB has since removed the comment I can quote freely regarding one viewpoint; the poster in question thought the best thing about the film was the fact that the flash forward concentrated much more on Jason Patric’s Journalist and Brad Pitt’s DA trying to scratch out a life in spite of the past, and keep in touch with the people they grew up with, than the criminal work of the killers summed up in voiceover – once the two thugs pulled the trigger for the one time we’re actually shown, they were really in the background, in jail or the courtroom. Despite the entire film dripping in revenge, one character states “It’s not worth throwing away your life just to get even” and there are other characters who have their own moral decisions to wrestle with. It’s a little unfair to call the film devoid of morality when, as in life, it’s complicated, people have to think things over and then make a decision that we, the audience, may disagree with.

The other general view is that the teen actors were as good as the adults, and despite the “Lorenzo leaving jail” conversation scene might not be how teens talk, inside or outside of a youth detention facility, it serves to sum up the general view of sexual abuse and how a child might immediately handle it, rather that disclosing.

So since I was there for Sleepers first time round, at present I’m content with a TV version, but may repurchase it on DVD or Blu-Ray some day if I think I can handle the whole uninterrupted flick. Despite being presumed to be fiction, it’s still incredibly powerful and at the time managed to bring equality of sympathy between boy and girl victims of CSA, up to the level of mainstream American film rather than just a TV movie. For that one service alone, it was good to have the book published and the film made, back in the mid to late nineties, even if the anti-marketing tarnished it.


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