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Sleepers Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 05 2011 - 01:36 PM

Barry Levinson's film about four sexually abused boys looking for justice as adults, features some strong performances around a moving premise, but is hampered by an over-indulgent script that sticks too close to its source material.

Posted Image

Release Date: Available now
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray "ECO-BOX"
Year: 1996
Rating: R
Running Time: 2:28:36
MSRP: $19.99

Video 1080p high definition 2.40:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Spanish 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish None

The Feature: 3.5/5

Director Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" - adapted from Lorenzo Carcaterra's autobiographical book by the same name - tells the story of four friends growing up in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, their experience of systematic physical and sexual abuse at a state juvenile detention facility, and the punishment they devise for their tormenters many years later, using their neighborhood connections and the legal system. Controversy arose, first with the book, then with the movie, over everything from the depiction of the boys' childhood priest and ally, Father Robert Carillo (played by Robert DeNiro), to the conditions of New York's juvenile justice program. Ultimately, Manhattan's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church and School, which Carcaterra attended as a boy, strongly questioned his story, while New York youth corrections and the Manhattan District Attorney's office went so far as to say none of the events took place. Carcaterra, however, stood by his story, citing a change of names and locations, but the integrity of the essential facts.

While it doesn't seem like we'll ever know the truth behind Carcaterra's tale - whether fact or fiction or some mix of the two - from a filmmaking perspective it doesn't much matter. The play's the thing, as it were, and with a cast featuring DeNiro as the boys' street smart priest, Kevin Bacon as the ringleader of the abusers, and Jason Patric and Brad Pitt as two of the grown boys seeking personal justice, it has a lot of moments that are compelling, if not downright chilling. However the film falls victim to sentimental over-indulgence, particularly around the boys' childhoods, leading to a film that's too long by at least 30 minutes and often plodding in its pace. Plot holes also abound within the second half's legal drama - a trial brought about through a chance encounter between Bacon's Sean Nokes and the other two victims, now grown men and members of a notorious neighborhood gang, played by Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup. Many of the critical turns in the case, orchestrated by Patric's and Pitt's characters Lorenzo and Michael, fail to make much sense or seem to skip over natural questions anyone involved in the trial would ask. While more aggressive trimming of the back story and revisions to the legal drama probably would have meant a significant deviation from the book (and there are definite moments where the film plays out more like a book than a movie), it also would have made for a more effective story, and one that needn't sacrifice what it wants to say in the process. Considering Carcaterra embraced a very similar concept when he wrote his book, it's surprising Levinson, a seasoned filmmaker, didn't do the same for his screenplay.

Video Quality: 4/5

The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The transfer features strong and stable blacks, and contrast that exhibits the full range of values with no signs of compression. Colors and flesh tones look accurate, but the palette tends to be pretty muted and even drab at times, reflecting the story's grim situations and environments. There's a slight amount of edge haloing along high contrast edges, which gives the image a sometimes brittle, processed appearance, and every so often signs of some noise reduction seem to make an appearance. Still, detail can be quite good, particularly in close ups but generally holding up even in wide shots.

Audio Quality: 4/5

Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is crisp, detailed and intelligible, though some of the New York accents can make it hard to discern certain words or phrases. Surround effects are fairly subdued, but there's persistent support for John Williams's score, and environmental effects sound well balanced and seamless. LFE pops up on one or two occasions and is well mixed with the rest of the channels.

Special Features: 1/5

Theatrical Trailer (2:16, SD)


The Feature: 3.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 1/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Warner Home Video gives Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" a solid audio and video presentation, though the special features are practically non-existent. Those with the previous flipper DVD release will likely want to upgrade once the price drops, while those new to the film will want to go with a rental first.

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#2 of 6 OFFLINE   Jason_V



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Posted August 05 2011 - 01:56 PM

I remember being enthralled by the book when I first read it seemingly eons ago.  Then we rented the movie and I was absolutely let down.  I don't remember the details about why, exactly, only that I was mightily disappointed.

#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Bob Cashill

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Posted August 05 2011 - 02:17 PM

Same here, Jason_V. (But the author's next book, APACHES, was almost unreadable.)

#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 05 2011 - 02:22 PM

The main thing I remember from seeing the film in the theater was that it seemed like it was never going to end. Seeing it during the gap between a split shift may have had something to do with my impatience though... Posted Image

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#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted August 06 2011 - 01:35 AM

I remember when this was one of the first DVD's released day/date with VHS back in 1997. It was also an early flipper disc, due to its length.

#6 of 6 OFFLINE   bosque



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Posted August 06 2011 - 09:10 PM

In the UK, we didn't get a flipper we got a Super Jewell case, a huge, expensive casing format which was soon dropped. It was also one of the rare (for the UK) discs where you were given the choice of apect ratios, OAR or "modified to fit your TV".