Witness (1985)

witness

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out on farm.

Samuel (Lukas Haas) is a young Amish boy traveling with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) by train to Baltimore to visit her sister. At the train station he leaves to go to the restroom where he witnesses a murder committed by McFee (Danny Glover) a narcotics cop gone bad. John Book (Harrison Ford) is the policeman investigating the case and when he realizes that there is an internal cover-up and he is now being targeted for blowing the whistle he goes into hiding with the boy and his mother at the farm home of Rachel’s grandfather Eli (Jan Rubes). There John learns to adjust to the Amish lifestyle while forming feelings for Rachel who displays the same for him, but McFee and his henchman doggedly pursue John in an attempt to silence him permanently.

The script by Earl K. Wallace and William Kelley deservedly won the Academy Award and is perfect blend of riveting cop drama and cultural understanding and one of the few films to deal with the Amish culture. It manages to tackle the subject in a non-sensationalistic manner that for the most part shows the Amish community in a positive, but still realistic light. The scenes showing the Amish men getting together and working as a team to hoist up a barn is exhilarating. The part where John punches out a brash heckler who looks exactly like current Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh who is harassing the peaceful people is satisfying as well. The film does also manage to look a bit at the negative side of the religion namely the shunning where if one of their members does not conform completely to their rigid doctrine then they will be literally shunned by the rest of their community even their own family members, which Rachel is told she risks simply by being, in their eyes, too friendly with John.

I remember at the time some critics complained about the scene where Rachel is bathing and turns around to find John peering at her and instead of covering herself up just stands there and exposes both of her breasts. Many people felt that this was not realistic. That a women raised on modesty would not just throw it all away and expose herself to a man who she was not married to and not a part of their community even if she did have some feelings for him and I have to agree. Although I did like the quiet sensuality of the scene I did not feel it was right for his type of picture, but fortunately it is the only time that it ever gets ‘Hollywoodnized’ and for the most part is pretty respectful.

The balance between the potential love angle and the action is surprisingly well done. The film may have one too many romantic moments, but otherwise the pacing is solid. The climatic showdown inside the barn had me on the edge of my seat and one of the best and most creative action finales for a cop movie that I have seen.

Ford is engaging as ever and it is surprising that his role here is his first and so far only time that he has ever been nominated for best actor. It is fun watching him learn how to milk a cow as well as seeing him dressed in an Amish suit with the pants not quite long enough.

Josef Sommar also gives an interesting performance as one of the bad guys. Instead of being the villain that becomes more confident, brazen, evil, and vicious as the pressure mounts he instead begins to behave in a more panicked and confused manner, which is an interesting take on the age-old formula.

Of course the real star of the film has to be Haas who is perfectly cast. He is cute and adorable without it ever having to be forced, or clichéd and one of the main reasons that this film has become so endearing.

The film also features Viggo Mortensen in a non-speaking part as one of the Amish men and Patti Lupone has a brief bit as John’s sister who begrudgingly agrees to take in Rachel and her son for the night in her home. Her reaction when Rachel tells her that she is Amish is subtly amusing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

One response to “Witness (1985)

  1. A nice movie for grandma.

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