A Review By Graeme Bacque


Featuring four notorious Hollywood tough guys (Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Bacon) in totally atypical roles, this film provided one of the most uncompromising looks at the issue of sexual abuse that I have ever seen in a commercial film. 

Set in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen district, this movie tells the story of four youngsters who wind up in a boy's reform school during the 1960's after stealing a hot dog vendor's wagon... then nearly killing a passerby when they lose control of the thing and it goes plunging down a flight of stairs. 

The reform school setting is bleakly and realistically depicted... and the abuses are not merely alluded to - they are in-your-face and horrifying. Suffice to say that I will have difficulty sleeping tonight after viewing this film. 

Fast forward to 1981... two of the survivors (Now in their mid-20's and involved in a NY street gang) encounter one of the reform school guards (Bacon) who abused them... and wind up shooting him dead in a restaurant. When the two are arrested and charged with the murder, the assistant D.A. assigned to the case (played by Brad Pitt) turns out to be another survivor of this institution... and a friend of the defendants. He is determined to ensure that his friends are not convicted for the killing... and to expose what had gone on in this institution. In order to do so, he sets up an elaborate hoax - in collaboration with the booze-addled defense attorney (Hoffman) and a streetwise priest (De Niro) who had known the defendants since boyhood - to ensure the acquittal of his friends while appearing to prosecute the case. 

The movie wasn't without its flaws... the sound was ear-splittingly loud, as seems to be the case with many new films, and the depiction of Catholic clergy in a good-guy role in this context frankly gripes me, considering the long and sordid legacy of abuses attributed to the Church. but these are small points. I don't think there has ever been a film which has presented the issue of sexual abuse with such blunt power. A must see... although many survivors will find it distressing, so don't see this one alone.