Four mischievous friends growing up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960s – Michael, John, Tommy and ‘Shakes’ – are sent to the Wilkinson School for Boys – a sadistic reform school – after a foolish prank with a hot dog vendor’s cart goes wrong.
Here, they are repeatedly raped and beaten at will by a cadre of sadistic guards including Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon, pictured at left), a fact that they’ve kept secret into adulthood.
Fast-forward 15 years and Michael (Brad Pitt) is now a rising star in the district attorney’s office, while John (Ron Eldard) and Tommy (Billy Crudup) are founders of the Irish gang the Westies and feared hitmen and dope dealers.
When Nokes walks into John and Tommy’s hangout, they kill him in cold blood and go on trial, defended by a bumbling, alcoholic lawyer (Dustin Hoffman).
Michael and Shakes (Jason Patric) – now a reporter at the New York Daily News – conspire with childhood friend Carol (Minnie Driver) and local priest Father Bobby (Robert DeNiro) to free their friends and get even with the surviving guards.
The big themes pile up, but director Barry Levinson keeps the story rolling. It’s often absorbing and exudes importance and integrity, but the plot mechanism and its moral stance – that violent revenge is fully justified – is not totally believable.
Robert De Niro
Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra