Movie #107: Witness (1985)

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Danny Glover

Academy Awards (1986):

Best Film Editing: Thom Noble

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: William Kelley, Pamela Wallace, Earl W. Wallace

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Harrison Ford

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration: Stan Jolley, John H. Anderson

Best Cinematography: John Seale

Best Director: Peter Weir

Best Music, Original Score: Maurice Jarre

Best Picture: Edward S. Feldman

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While waiting at the train station, Samuel Lapp (Haas), a young Amish boy, witnesses the murder of an undercover cop.  He and his mother, recently widowed Rachel (McGillis), go into hiding in the Amish community with hard-bitten cop John Book (Ford).  Worlds collide as Detective McFee (Glover), one of the killers, and Book’s superior Schaeffer (Sommer) attempt to kill the only witness and in doing so introduce a world of violence into an otherwise peaceful community.

Witness was interesting to watch for a few reasons.  The thriller elements of this film worked well.  The dramatic elements weren’t over-the-top, and as such the story flowed naturally.  There is a good balance of drama, romance, and action.  None of them necessarily dominated the others.

It was also interesting as a case study in the drastically contrasting cultures of the Amish and then ‘English,’ the outside world.  Though Book is doing a good thing in protecting Samuel and Rachel, he unintentionally brings violence and murder into the Amish community.

Witness was a launching point for a number of big name actors and actresses.  Harrison Ford had been well established by 1985, but this performance really showcased him as a serious actor, and he gives one of his better performances in my opinion.  Kelly McGillis has a good balance and demonstrated she could play a strong yet conflicted character.  Danny Glover had a few notable roles prior to this movie.  Viggo Mortensen also has a minor part in the film.

The chemistry between Ford and McGillis in this film was interesting to watch.  As they slowly progressed in their like of one another, you could see Rachel’s inner struggle as she is torn between her upbringing and her desire.  The love story between them doesn’t feel forced, and though love stories are common in films, this one is done well enough that it’s not just your run-of-the-mill love story that’s thrown in.

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Witness combines a number of dramatic, thriller, and romantic elements to make for a well-rounded and engaging movie.  It was interesting to watch, and I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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