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The opening words of Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" are,"This is atrue story about friendship that runs deeper than blood." That's carelesswriting;how,exactly,does it run deeper than blood,and how deep is blood?But after seeing the film the words I remembered were,"This is a true story."I doubt it is anything of the kind,and Lorenzo Carcaterra's novel,whichinspired the movie,has been convincingly attacked on its claim to be based onfact.
Allmovies are in some way fiction,so what does it matter?The Coen Brothers' "Fargo"claimed to be based on a true story,and they admit it wasn't;the "true story"bit at the beginning was just a stylistic device.With "Sleepers," however,theclaim is meant seriously,and that bothers me,because it shows moral decisionsbeing made which,in the real world,would have had real results.
Thefilm tells the story of four friends from the west side of New York--Hell'sKitchen--and how they grow up in a tough but protective neighborhood,where themoral poles are Father Bobby (Robert De Niro) and King Benny (VittorioGassman),the Mafia boss.When the kids are 13,they steal a hot dog wagon andit rolls down subway steps and crushes a man.They're sentenced to areformatory where they are tortured and sexually assaulted by a sadistic guardnamed Nokes (Kevin Bacon).
NowI will have to reveal plot points.There is a flash-forward to the summer of1981.Two of the boys,now about 28 and gangsters themselves,walk into arestaurant,see Nokes,and shoot him to death.They are brought to trial.Butone of the original four,Shakes (Jason Patricnewspaper.Another)现在的作品,Michael (Brad Pitt),is an assistant D.A.They fashion a scheme inwhich Michael will try the case in such a way that their two old friends willbeat the rap.
"Wordslike `payback time' and `revenge' came to mind," Shakes,the narrator,tellsus.King Benny,still running the neighborhood,arranges for an alcoholiclawyer named Snyder (Dustin Hoffman) to defend the killers because he can beordered to follow the script.Everything depends on the willingness of goodFather Bobby to provide the defendants with an alibi.
Onthe surface,this is a story about justified revenge.Dig a little deeper andit gets complicated.The two defendants have become professional mobsters andkillers.After their trial,they go back to killing.The priest observes,"Iknow what they were and I know what they are and it's not about that." Themovie's real subject is a homophobic revenge fantasy,which it justifies withthe Cosa Nostra version of honor.
Considerthe priest.Nothing in the film indicates he is anything other than absolutelytruthful,upright and moral.When he's asked to perjure himself,there is aneffective shot: The camera remains on De Niro in closeup,while he thinks,andthinks.The next time we see him is on the witness stand.In a movie flowingwith dialogue,he is not given a single word to explain his decision,possiblybecause the filmmakers know it cannot be explained--anything he says wouldexpose the shallow morality.
FatherBobby must know "his" boys are killers themselves--doing to others worse thanwhat was done unto them (unless homosexual rape is worse than death,a notionthe movie flirts with).Father Bobby's church and faith are unequivocal: Murderis wrong,revenge is wrong,two wrongs do not make a right.What the movie isarguing,when Father Bobby lies on the stand,is that the mob-oriented "values"of the "neighborhood" run deeper and take precedence over the values of thepriest's faith.
Sowhat we really have here is a situation in which the pop culture version of theMafia code,as popularized by the evangelistMario Puzoand elaborated by hisacolytes like Carcaterra,is valued above traditional morality.If you doubtthat the movie depends on homophobia to justify its morality,ask yourself: Ifthe boys had been beaten but not sexually molested,would the movie play thesame way?祭司到达同样的决定吗?Would the verdict seemas justified?It's necessary to discuss the underlying morality of "Sleepers"because the movie so smugly tries to exploit it without acknowledging it.Thatsaid,I must report this is a pretty good movie on more superficial levels.Dustin Hoffman gives a fine,subtle,quavering performance as the shaky defenselawyer who asks his questions so quietly that one witness cannot quite believewhat is happening to him.Kevin Bacon is a strong,effective villain.Robert DeNiro is used more for his aura than his skills,but makes Father Bobby into themost believable character in the movie.
JasonPatric and Brad Pitt,as the two conspirators,seem more like Woodward andBernstein in "All the President's Men" than like former West Side Boys,butthat's how stars are useful: By casting their roles with stars and casting thetwo defendants with unknowns,the movie tilts us toward the success of the plotand away from the guilt of the killers.
Iliked the way the film evoked Hell's Kitchen;there is a whiff of MartinScorsese's "Mean Streets." Some of the supporting performances--especiallyGassman's--were colorful.The courtroom scene works,as most courtroom scenesdo.As entertainment,the movie functions successfully.But I don't believe thestory is true--not true to the facts,and not true to the morality it pretendsto be about.
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