Sleepers is a drama, which is based on a true story of four mischievous boys in New York City. Due to a tragic accident, their life is turned upside down as well as filled with unimaginable horror. The story starts out in the late 60s, as Shakes narrates everything that happened to him and his friends.
During the Summer of 1966, four young boys are seen sunbathing on top of a building’s rooftop in Hell’s Kitchen while they discuss ways and strategies on stealing hot dogs from the hot dog vendor. The area is filled with lower to middle class families, where kids use the streets as their playground, playing stick ball and jumping rope. Those streets were also tainted with harsh realities and corruption. These boys were raised Catholic, attended church on regular basis as alter boys. Like other kids, they often played pranks in church, teasing the girls with clickers and hiding in confession booths to listen in other people’s woes. Other pranks include when Shakes, Michael and John make a peep hole in a building in order to watch naked women inside.
One of their close friends was a priest, Father Bobby, and they often hang out in the neighborhood, whether with Father Bobby or the other shop owners. It was a small community, where everyone knew each other as well as looked out for one another. Shakes gets a job with King Benny, delivering bags for him.
By the Winter of 1967, the harsh realities of everyday life continued. They watched endless politics on television as well as many dead bodies returning home from the war. In their own neighborhoods, domestic violence was prevalent. But divorce was considered a taboo as many wives had to live with it and deal with it as a part of their marital vows, for better or worse. The kids had to make due with the abusive family members. John Reilly ends up in the hospital because his mother’s boyfriend beats him up. Oftentimes, the shop owners try to prep the boys to be tough and mean in order to survive these harsh realities of everyday life.
It is a hot summer, during 1967, where the temperature is around 98 degrees. The boys enjoy their favorite past-time of laying out on the building rooftop as they plan and map out a way to steal some food. It was only a harmless childhood prank, so they thought. But that day would forever change the rest of their lives. Their initial plan was to get one boy to distract the hot dog vendor. While the vendor chases the boy all over the community on a wild goose chase, the other three boys would hijack the cart and steal as much hot dogs as they can handle. The three boys decide to push the cart for a couple of blocks to mess with the vendor’s head as he tries to search for his cart. Shakes watches his three friends approaching a subway as they slowly try to roll it down the steps of the subway entrance. But they hadn’t realized how heavy the cart really is. And, all of the sudden, they lose their grip from the cart, and it rapidly rolls down the steps and toward an older man as he unexpectedly appears walking toward the subway exit. The heavy metal and very hot cart sandwiches the man to the concrete wall as it crashes on top of him. This old man is later seen in the hospital, slowly recovering in ICU.
The boys are sentenced to up to one year in a juvenile facility for boys. They see the Greek street vendor at the court house, and they realize that they had messed up an innocent man’s whole life as he worked hard on the streets to support and feed his family.
From day one at the juvenile facility, the boys have lived in terror. A guard, Nokes, approaches Shakes’ room, and while remaining behind the door, he tells Shakes to undress so that he can check out his naked adolescent body through the door window. Nokes, played by Kevin Bacon, makes Shakes take off his Virgin Mary necklace that he was wearing under his clothes. The other boys also meet the other guards, Ferguson, Stiler, and Addison, who always accompanied Nokes as the guards physically and sexually, abused and tortured these boys in a secluded area. The other boys in the facility often picked fights with these four boys, and the guards didn’t make the situation any better. After Nokes breaks up a fight, he forces the four boys to eat the food off the floor or he beats them. Finally, an older guard comes to their aid, kicking Nokes out of the cafeteria.
Nokes and the other three guards are often seen leading the four boys through a very long and dark passageway to a secluded and dark area, where physical, sexual and verbal abuse as well as torture took place during their duration at the facility. The boys were often heard screaming from the beatings as well as they were forced to give the guards blow jobs.
On Shakes’ fourteenth birthday, Father Bobby visits Shakes, encouraging him to stay strong and not let this place mess him up. He tells him that he had been in this facility with his friend, and it had messed up his friend. Shakes often hears John Reilly crying at night.
All of the boys in the facility have to attend classes in order to get an education while they are serving their time. The English teacher likes Shakes’ book report on The Count of Monte Cristo, which is Shakes’ favorite book. The teacher gives Shakes a copy of the book because he likes the book so much. Shakes likes this book because he relates with the character’s abuse and torture, and he silently plans his own escape and revenge like the main character in this novel. It helps him persevere in his own terror as he reads about how a fictional character dealt in a similar situation.
The guards often played touch football with the boys, but not for enjoyment or leisure. They played with them to continually humiliate, torture, beat and abuse them. The guards always won, and they beat the boys for losing. The boys decide to talk to the biggest kid on their team into helping them get even with the guards. This black boy, named Rizzo, was reluctant at first. But they figured that the Saturday game would allow them to get even because they were allowed to fight back. The boys got their victory by beating the guards, but at the expense of the guards ended beating Rizzo to death. And, the boys were also beaten up, and each were thrown into a separate small and dark cell without food or water. But all each boy had was a rat, crawling in the dark cell.
By Spring 1968, the boys realize their term is almost over. They discuss keeping all the horrors that happened to them a secret between them. John Reilly just wants to sleep one night without anyone coming into his room. Right before they are released on June 1st, Nokes and the other guards take the boys on their last night of abuse in the facility.
The scene changes to Fall 1981, where two male thugs walk the dark, but lighted streets of Hell’s Kitchen. John Reilly and Tommy Marceno enter a bar. They have a history with drugs and alcohol, as well as committing murders and other crimes. John recognizes Nokes eating at a table by himself. He tells Tommy. They walk to his table, stare at him, and walk off to the side in order to cock their guns before returning to Nokes’ table. They approach and confront Nokes, reminding him who they are. He eventually recognizes them, and he tries to make a joke about it in order to get out of his situation. But they haven’t forgotten and they don’t think his jokes are funny. After showing him their guns, they shoot him a couple of times before calmly leaving the bar. They felt great relief killing one of the guards, as they walk off carefree and nonchalant.
The rest of the movie surrounds the court system as John and Tommy are now in jail, and Michael and Shakes work hard to continue getting their revenge as they bail out and save their friends. Shakes goes to the jail to see them, and they tell him that they killed Nokes, by saying, “One down.” Shakes meets Michael at night in order to make plans to get their payback, as he tells his friend, “It’s payback time.” Michael is a lawyer now, and his plan is to try to lose in the court case so that they can finish getting their revenge on the other guards, based on the novel, The Count of Monte Cristo’s revenge. They want to put an end to their endless nightmares and sufferings, once and for all. During their research, Michael shows Shakes many files on the guards. They create a code system by marking the newspaper delivered to their homes with a code that they only understand. They need a witness to lie for them by testifying that Tommy and John couldn’t have killed Nokes. They get their friends to help them. King Benny talks to his lawyer friend, Denny Snider, to take the case and win it. Shakes privately meets with a man to discuss what they need to do next. He later meets with Carol to make plans with her. King Benny and Shakes talk about two possible witnesses. As Shakes prays in the cathedral, he often gets flashbacks of the abuse and torture that continually haunts him. Father Bobby, Shakes and Carol discuss Michael’s plan, and Shakes persuades Father Bobby to be a witness by telling him everything that happened to them. He eventually, but although reluctantly, agrees to lie under oath in order to save Tommy and John. Carol is in shock as she hears everything.
One night, as it rains hard, Shakes meets with King Benny’s nephew and an official inside a car. He gives the official bunch of files, black and white glossies, a gun and other information about the case. Later, Michael and Carol meet on a subway in order to chat privately. Carol tells him that Shakes told her and Father Bobby everything. Meanwhile, Shakes talks to King Benny. He knows that King Benny hates Addison. King Benny talks to Eddie Robinson, Rizzo’s brother, telling him to kill Addison for $8000. At night, near a very noisy airport, while an airplane is about to land, Addison was shot a couple of times by Eddie’s men.
Inside the court hearing, Ferguson takes the stand. He loses it, breaks down, and admits that they abused and tortured the boys. Denny Snider calls Father Bobby Carillo to the stand. The priest shows the court the ticket stubs from the basketball game that he had supposedly attended with John and Tommy. He not only lied, but he covered himself well. Denny Snider wins the case for John and Tommy. They were found not guilty and released from jail.
Tommy, John, Michael, Shakes and Carol reunite, one last time, to celebrate their victory, freedom and revenge. But, unfortunately, the torture and abuse will haunt them for the rest of their lives, until…
Tommy and John are found shot dead, at separate times and separate areas, and Michael retires from his law practice as he lives like a recluse in England. Carol still lives in Hell’s Kitchen, with her son, John Reilly, which she nicknamed, Shakes.
Although this movie was disturbing, I thought it was an interesting movie, partly because it was based on a true story as well as it was a good drama about the sick people in society, like these guards, who mess up people to make them go to the wrong path that they choose to go in order to survive the horrors they experienced. It is no wonder that the prison system is filled with many mentally ill individuals messed up by someone in society. And, the prisons continue to grow with ever-increasing population of tortured and abused souls with no hope but downhill until they finally have peace when they die in prison. Although I was rooting for these boys, anyways, because I felt sorry for them and everything that they had endured, reality usually dictates that the ending is rarely happy, or at least, with a tragic ending of some sort. That is the harsh realities of real life. All the people that I told to watch this movie also enjoyed this disturbing drama. And, just knowing that it is a true story, made it even more interesting, horrifying, shocking, suspenseful, and intensifying, keeping the viewers on the edge of their seats and wondering what will happen next.