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Section Header
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
John Neufeld

Polygram Records

Release Date:
October 15th, 1996

Also See:
Presumed Innocent

Audio Clips:
3. The Football Game (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

7. Revenge (0:31):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (250K)
Real Audio (155K)

9. Learning the Hard Way (0:27):
WMA (177K)  MP3 (218K)
Real Audio (136K)

13. Reunion and Finale (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (251K)
Real Audio (156K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Nominated for an Academy Award.


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Used Price: $0.99

Sales Rank: 164958

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Buy it... only if you are prepared for one of John Williams' most depressing and grim scores of heavy drama, one meant to give you a feeling of gloomy discomfort.

Avoid it... if you do not prefer Williams' use of stark synthesizers and challenging ambience as a substitute for orchestral presence and thematic focus.

Sleepers: (John Williams) For the film adaptation of Lorenzo Carcaterra's novel, director Barry Levinson assembled an outstanding principle cast in Sleepers. The story of torture, homophobia, and vengeance claimed in the opening line of the film to be based on true events, a somewhat unsubstantiated point of controversy surrounding the film at the time of its release. Whether it was true or not, the subject matter of Sleepers is unpleasant at best. Four boys growing up on the west side of New York steal a hot dog wagon for fun and the runaway cart accidentally crushes a bystander. While consequently in a reformatory, they are sexually and physically abused by a cruel and perverted guard. Twenty years later, in 1981, two of the boys kill the guard and the other two, a lawyer and a journalist, become involved in a conspiracy to cover their tracks and clear their names of the crime. Topics of honor, religion, revenge, and morality all abound in Sleepers, with depths of character observation that floating the film and aided by the success of the grim plot and its genuine depictions of the New York setting. The production represented the only score of 1996 for legendary composer John Williams, and it also served as his first collaboration with Levinson. For the maestro, the mid-1990's was a period in his career when he had left behind the adventuresome themes of action and fantasy; his projects had dwindled in number and gravitated towards topics of a more serious and dramatic nature. While his scores after his outstanding 1993 duo of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, extending through Saving Private Ryan five years later, remain less memorable for casual film music collectors, much of his work during that time is not only fascinating to study, but it still characteristically continued to garner Academy Award nominations for the composer. An odd entry for Williams in this era was Sleepers, a score reaching outside of his usual accessible, tonal nature and creeping in the realm of the tormented psyche. For many collectors of the composer's music, Sleepers is an above average entry, a crafty and understated score that makes for a superior background listening experience. While this may be somewhat true, Sleepers also suffers from a complete lack of center and focus, causing its identity to be defined, ironically, by its lack of any defining characteristics.

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It's not often that Williams allows synthesizers to dominate his scores; in the 1990's and beyond, they have served in only an auxiliary role. But anyone who remembers back to Heartbeeps will recall that Williams has the capability of conjuring some really uncharacteristic sounds with an array of electronics at the forefront. He does this in Sleepers, combining his synthesizers with a traditional orchestra in methods that will likely startle you as much as the score did for veteran Williams listeners when it debuted. Along with keyboarding effects, Williams utilizes an electronic bass with a heavy hand, causing a significant portion of the score to drone as solo instruments from the orchestra meander in the distance. The harsh keyboarded tones from JFK ramble without remorse, and metallic sounds tear and rip over the score's several highly dissonant crescendos of pure noise. Williams' rhythms in Sleepers nearly save it from its own despair, frantically whipping up a frenzy in short bursts that never manage to assert themselves by the end. It is this inconsistency in sound the causes Sleepers to be disjointed beyond repair. You hear typical Williams' techniques and thematic motifs hinted at every turn, but none of them is ever established over another. The concert piece for Sleepers is the orchestral "Hell's Kitchen," which features a fragmented line of broken chords that serves as Williams' only theme from the film. Its intentionally wandering focus, even with entire ensemble in charge, makes it difficult to remember beyond its few satisfying progressions. Most of these progressions will remind of Williams' disaster themes of the 1970's. In "The Football Game," however, Williams returns to the present and offers the most interesting and enjoyable idea from the score: an all-out, rhythmically charged scherzo with rambling piano and bass highlighted by sharp brass notes and a modern percussive beat. It's unfortunate he didn't revisit this material when writing his theme for NBC's Sunday Night Football in the following decade. After this cue, Williams turns to a liturgical choral piece for "Saying the Rosary" before diving once again into the murky depths of his synthesizers. It's this kind of schizophrenic movement that causes the demise of Sleepers. You get the impression that Williams was attempting to repeat the stark suspense of Presumed Innocent and fuse it with some of the raw energy from JFK. But without a clear thematic construct, or even consistent instrumental execution, however, Sleepers fails at that task. It only leaves you with a feeling of gloomy discomfort, which was probably the intent, but it makes for a poor listening experience. ** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 338,223 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.99 Stars
Smart Average: 2.99 Stars*
***** 45 
**** 54 
*** 69 
** 54 
* 46 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Excellent score, Filmtrack reviewer stinks
  S.Venkatnarayanan -- 3/31/08 (9:07 p.m.)
   Re: Superb score
  F -- 11/1/05 (6:31 a.m.)
   Superb score
  Tomek -- 8/1/05 (6:39 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 56:24

• 1. Sleepers at Wilkinson (3:41)
• 2. Hell's Kitchen (5:23)
• 3. The Football Game (4:09)
• 4. Saying the Rosary (6:53)
• 5. The Trip to Wilkinson (2:35)
• 6. Time in Solitary (4:23)
• 7. Revenge (2:46)
• 8. Michael's Witness (4:09)
• 9. Learning the Hard Way (5:21)
• 10. Last Night at Wilkinson (3:51)
• 11. Father Bobby's Decision (3:56)
• 12. Reliving the Past (3:40)
• 13. Reunion and Finale (5:30)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Sleepers are Copyright © 1996, Polygram Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 10/16/96 and last updated 11/11/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1996-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.