Witness Movie Review

The city cop struggles through an early breakfast with his temporary neighbors -- the Pennsylvania Amish. After a sip of coffee, he blurts out, "Honey, this is great coffee." His breakfast companions blankly stare. Awkwardly, he explains that it's from a commercial and continues eating. That single scene exemplifies why Witness is so good. It eschews easy payoffs and punch lines for well-rounded characters, quiet sequences that nearly bubble over with sexual unease, and intelligence.

Harrison Ford plays the cop, John Book, who heads to Lancaster County from Philadelphia after a young murder witness (Lucas Haas) identifies Book's colleague as the culprit, unveiling a departmental conspiracy. A wounded Book drives the boy and his mother (Kelly McGillis) to their farm before collapsing. With the car damaged and his superiors on the look out, Book is forced to stay with the Amish and live their lifestyle until he can get away.

So, Book milks cows, helps to build a barn, and gets friendlier with McGillis' widow Rachel, which is definitely not in the Amish rule book. What's also against type is how Weir and his writers handle the relationship, building their attraction with little gestures. A sweaty Book draining a glass of lemonade and a long shot of the outsider walking as Rachel talks to her beau (Alexander Godonov) is all the lustful proof needed. Book is in the same boat, especially when he encounters her taking a bath.

Images are given precedent in Witness, a luxury Weir can afford because the Oscar-winning screenplay provides a wealth of information without lengthy back stories, something the summer blockbusters of recent years should pay attention to. Early in the movie, Book storms into his sister's apartment and we know him within 90 seconds. Scenes like that let Weir leave us hanging, let the camera's position tell the story, and give every scene uncertainty. Sure, we know Book and the young widow, but just the basic facts, not enough to put together a solution.

Of course, Ford is Ford. Even in trash like Hollywood Homicide he finds a way to use his macho charisma for positive effect. In Witness, Ford allows his ease to shake and the result is a touching performance, one that landed him a much-deserved Oscar nomination. McGillis is good here, but her career freefall after Top Gun indicates Weir had more to do with her bonneted sultriness than she did. Weir does more than making McGillis into a butter churning Barbara Stanwyck. He takes a high concept idea and turns it into a character study more suspenseful and more rewarding than the anticipated norm. In a summer with drowsy blockbusters, Witness (now on a special edition DVD) could remind the multiplexes how to get their groove back.

The new Collector's Edition DVD adds a deleted scene (which appears in the TV version of the film), and a massive documentary about the making of the movie.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : Edward S. Feldman


Witness Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1985


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