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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie deals with the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children. Characters drink, smoke, do drugs, steal, have sex, rape children, commit murder, beat one another, and engage in other illegal activities including selling drugs and bribing police officers. Domestic abuse also figures significantly in the film. The main character's Catholic upbringing also figures largely in the plot, and morality in the film is extremely complex. Younger viewers will likely be confused by the concept of right and wrong as presented in the film. And the film is not easy viewing -- particularly for anyone who has endured abuse of any kind.
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What's the story?
One of a number of films obsessed with a loss of innocence, director Barry Levinson's SLEEPERS tells the tale of four boys from New York City's Hell's Kitchen. In the process of committing petty theft, the boys commit a prank that goes horribly wrong, severely injuring a man. As punishment, the kids are tossed into detention hall, where they are brutalized by the guards. Over a decade later, the two of the quartet who have turned to a life of crime encounter one of their former tormenters and have the opportunity for revenge.
Is it any good?
Sleepers is anything but easy viewing. The film focuses extensively on the sexual and physical abuse of the four boys. As the ringleader of the detention hall guards, Kevin Bacon is at his absolute creepiest. The young cast does quite well, particularly Joseph Perrino as the young Lorenzo "Shakes" Carcaterra. Other standouts include a rather restrained Robert De Niro as Father Bobby and Dustin Hoffman as has-been lawyer Danny Snyder. One exception to the general excellence of the cast is Minnie Driver, who appears woefully miscast as the adult Carol Martinez. Execution-wise, the film is fine. The soundtrack is engaging, and the imagery of 1960s New York is appropriately intoxicating. Something gets lost in the last half of the film, however, and the main characters become a bit less compelling -- the adult versions of the abused children are just not as interesting.
Due to thematic content and thematic issues, this film will be uncomfortable for most viewers -- even adults. That being said, the film is worth watching, and is part of a veritable genre of movies dealing with the destruction of childhood.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the concept of revenge. Why does the murder of Sean Nokes seem justified? Is it? Why are some of the characters able to move forward with their lives while others seem to be destroyed by their abuse? The issue of punishing juvenile offenders also comes into play. Is the punishment of the four main characters fair? Why or why not? How does the characters' socioeconomic position figure into this punishment, if at all?
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