When Samuel (Lukas Haas), a young Amish boy traveling with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis), witnesses the murder of a police officer in a public restroom, he and his mother become the temporary wards of John Book (Harri... more »son Ford), a detective who's been assigned to solve the crime. After suspect lineups and mug-shot books yield nothing, Samuel, in the most memorable scene of the film, recognizes the murderer as a narcotics agent whose picture he sees in the precinct. Once Book realizes that the police chief is in on it, too, he whisks Samuel and Rachel back home to Amish country, where he himself goes into hiding as a plain Amish man. The juxtaposition between the life of the Amish and the violence of inner-city police corruption work surprisingly well for the story, and Kelly McGillis as the falling in love widow gives an almost perfect performance. Directed by Peter Weir, the film is extremely successful in drawing the viewer into its world and, accordingly, is immensely entertaining. The only thing that mars its polish is the one-dimensional, almost cartoonish handling of the upper-echelon police corruption--a subtler, more realistic treatment of this aspect of the story would have rendered the film near perfect. --James McGrath« less
Sharon F. (Shar) from HIALEAH, FL Reviewed on 6/9/2021...
Excellent movie! Great writing, great acting. And it gives you an insight into the Amish religion and culture.
4 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
Kelly L. (travelbug2497) from HUDSON, MI Reviewed on 6/16/2009...
This is a really good movie. Two thumbs up!! I highly suggest this movie to anyone! :)
0 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Great movie receives much deserved upgraded DVD
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 08/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Made immediately after "The Year of Living Dangerously", "Witness" continued a winning streak for Australian director Peter Weir. His first "American" movie, "Witness" deals with the conflict between two cultures and, in a sense, two centuries as part of a much more conventional police drama about an Amish boy (Lukas Haas) who witnesses the murder of an undercover police officer in the men's room of a train station. His mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) is traveling with the boy and both are drawn into the police investigation. What Detective Captain John Book (Harrison Ford) who is investigating the case doesn't realize is that someone is out to kill them both. As a result, Book goes undercover himself taking them back to the Amish community they come from and hiding out with them there until he can resolve who is trying to kill them.
Featuring a rich, startling performance from Ford and a powerful turn by Kelly McGillis (who had only appeared on "One Life to Live", a TV movie and the marvelous film "Rueben, Rueben" at that point in her career) "Witness" still manages to amaze with the suspense that Weir generates in the film. His focus on the contrasting cultural values of Book and the Amish community makes the film much more than a conventional "B" movie police crime drama adding depth and nuance to the film.
A much needed improvement over the previous edition of "Witness", this collector's edition looks sharp with vivid colors, sharp image quality and very few digital artifacts. Blacks are rock solid throughout. The original release was a non-anamorphic widescreen image and, as such, this anamorphic presentation is a huge improvement over the previous edition of the movie. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix sounds solid throughout.
The original "Witness" was released bare bones so this new edition is a welcome change. There's a 5 part documentary "Between Two Worlds" which features new interviews with producer Edward S. Feldman, director Peter Weir, actors Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. Feldman discusses how the original script was presented to many directors (including director David Cronenberg "The Fly") and many turned it down. Feldman and his wife happened to see Weir's "The Year of Living Dangerously" and he commented to his wife about how that was "a movie" and how perfect he would be to direct the film. McGillis discusses how lucky she was to work with Ford and Weir on one of her first major movies. Ford focuses on how difficult it can be to work with a Foreign director where English isn't their primary language so they can frequently lose the nuance of the performance. As Ford points out Weir had the advantage of their common language plus the added advantage of being an outsider culturally giving added perspective to the film. Weir's comments are, not surprisingly, the most valuable as he discusses the challenges of making a film in the United States vs. his home country. He also focuses on how he made substantial changes to the script shifting the point of view from Rachel (McGillis) to Book (Ford) since Book was the outsider in Amish country much like Weir was with the American crew and actors. His perceptive comments are always valuable it's a pity he's not a believer in doing film commentary tracks. He also points out that the sequence in the grain tower was improvised and created by he and Ford a couple of days before shooting as they wanted their "High Noon" like showdown to have something different and unique that might take advantage of the setting.
We get one deleted scene that was added to the network broadcast (it isn't integrated here into the feature either). Like "The Truman Show" it's clear why the deleted scene was cut although it wouldn't have damaged the pacing of the film all that much. Still, the point made in the deleted sequence where Book's nephews show the Amish boy his first video game is charming; thematically it's echoed by other far superior sequences throughout the film. There are also the original TV spots and theatrical teaser and trailer for the movie.
"Witness" was a pivotal film for director Weir as it cemented his reputation as a major film director. It also set the stage for his collaboration with Ford on the underrated "The Mosquito Coast" as well as Weir's work with producer Edward Feldman on "The Truman Show" another pivotal film in Weir's career. Although he didn't wriwrite "Witness", Weir brought his experience as a writer/director to the film and kept the original writers on board to retool the script to fit his unique vision. Typically, the film was honored with an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay but Weir was passed over as director (as he continues to be much like Hitchcock and Welles two other giants of the cinema to which Weir can be compared for his unique personal vision). Paramount has done a great job here improving the transfer as well adding much needed extras to this classic contemporary film. Although 20 years old, "Witness" holds up extremely well today (Weir comments that he thought that it was the one film would be least likely to continue to hold up well and has been pleasantly surprised). Definitely worth an upgrade for fans of this terrific movie!"
Harrison Ford shines in a well-crafted film
JLind555 | 07/26/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"'Witness' is probably Harrison Ford's best film, and when it was released it showed him another facet of a gifted actor who until then had been known only to most moviegoers only as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. In 'Witness', Ford is police detective John Book, called to interrogate a terrified little Amish boy named Samuel Lapp, and his young widowed mother. An undercover cop has been killed in the men's room at the railroad station, and Samuel, hiding in a stall, is the only eyewitness. Samuel is unable to identify the perp from the usual log of suspects; but there he is, posted prominently on the precinct bulletin board -- a decorated narcotics agent. When Book relates his findings to the police captain, he ends up getting shot himself -- seems the captain is in on it as well. With the captain, the narcotics agent, and a third dirty cop gunning for him, Book needs a place to hide, and what better place than the Lapp house deep in Amish country?
The contrast between the gritty urban police precinct and the bucolic Amish farm country is one of the best things about the film. Book dressed in a blue shirt and black trousers several inches too short for him, looking like the proverbial fish out of the water, is a sight to behold. All of a sudden he's back in the nineteenth century -- no electricity, no cars, no TV or computers. He might as well be on another planet. And the Amish are as different from him as space aliens; gentle, quiet pacifists, hardworking and industrious, intent on keeping the outside world as far from them as possible. They are neighborly and cooperative; the barn-raising scene is inspiring to watch. We feel sympathy for these quiet, decent people as the outside world keeps encroaching, and see them trying to navigate a horse and buggy on the Interstate. Book has to try to fit into this world, and he gives it his best shot. He joins in the barn-raising, does odd chores around the farm. But the Amish, while they respect his abilities, hold him at arm's length. For one thing, he's falling in love with the young widow Lapp, whose feeling for him is mutual. For another, his assimilation is only skin-deep; on a trip into town, when a group of local louts start pestering the Amish, Book chips in with a right to the lout's nose that leaves his face a bloody mess. It's going to prove his undoing; back in his precinct, the narcotics agent and the captain have gotten wind of his hideout, and now they come to shut him up once and for all, and silence Samuel as well.
In contrast to his one-note performances in the 'Star Wars' films and as Indiana Jones, Ford gives a much more nuanced performance in this film; he's the tough city cop on the one hand and the refugee who doesn't fit on on the other. Lukas Haas is very effective as the young boy Samuel, all big eyes and ears; and Kelly McGillis is excellent as his mother, torn between her feelings for Book and her ties to her Amish community; faced with the threat of being shunned for the rest of her life and cut off from everyone she knows if she marries him. There are several notable supporting performances as well, especially the late Alexander Godunov as the widow Lapp's admirer whose innate civility prevents him from expressing the resentment he feels at Books presence, and Danny Glover as the murderous narcotics detective. Peter Weir's sensitive direction plays up the contrast between time and place, sustaining the tension throughout the film. 'Witness' is not an action/adventure blockbuster like the movies that made Ford a household name, but it doesn't need pyrotechnics to stand out. It's a well-crafted, well-acted, eminently satisfying movie. "
Harrison and Thou
Linda McDonnell | Brooklyn, U.S.A | 06/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although I suppose "Bladerunner" is the movie that showed Harrison Ford could do something outside of "Star Wars", I personally think "Witness" was one of the most important movies of his career, because it's a complete departure from a science fiction storyline, and therefore paved the way for all the Tom Clancy stuff and other movies that featured him as a romantic hero.
Here he plays John Book, a police detective who has to interrogate a small Amish boy who is the only witness to a brutal murder in a train terminal washroom. When the boy makes an ID that implicates a respected fellow police detective, Book gets wounded, but realizes that he must get the boy and his widowed mother (Kelly McGillis) back to the Amish country and go underground. Thus, much of the movie concerns itself with the fish out of water experience he has, trying to pass as an Amish man, learning about their life and falling in love with the boy's mother. This is dangerous territory for her, as her father-in-law warns her that if she steps out of line, she will be shunned by her community. And then of course, the corrupt police have been looking for Book and the boy, remember. Final showdown is about as you would expect it, and glad to have it so. One interesting note is the pretty good performance by Alexander Godonoff, the defected ballet dancer, as a jealous suitor of Kelly McGillis. Too bad he died so young; he might have branched into a whole new career here. I hadn't seen this for many years before finding it among the tapes at a bed and breakfast place last summer. I was pleased to find it as enjoyable today as it was years ago, and my friend who had never seen it was enthralled, as you would be, too."
Ford's Best Preformance...A Classic
Adam Dukovich | 02/12/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Why didn't Harrison Ford win an Oscar for this movie? He gives a performance that is still the best of his career, he is surprisingly...emotional. Near the end, anyway. Witness is a story about many different things, and suceeds in nearly all of them. Young Amish boy Samuel Lapp is the witness to a grisly murder, and immediately becomes crucial to the investigation to find the killers, headed by veteran police officer John Book. It doesn't take Book long to figure out that there's a conspiracy in the Philadelphia Police Department, a conspiracy to sell drugs above the law. Book gets into a gunfight, then skips town to save himself, Samuel and his mother, Rachel, a widow. As the story progresses, John and Rachel become attracted to each other, which leads to lots of tension because of the Amish angle. You wonder if one will abandon their life to join the other. This tension is part of what makes the movie great. There's humor, although a little more would not have been out of line, and there's plenty of excitement when the crooked cops return to silence Book once and for all. Sure, the ending is pretty disappointing, and there are some goofs, like some of the other reviewers have mentioned (I honestly didn't notice them until I looked for them), and this movie has a defininte eighties feel, with those wonderful synthesizers that you remember (or are unable to forget, as is my case), but this is the best film of Ford's career, he was nominated for an Oscar, and he should have won it in my opinion. The DVD, however, offers little, just a commentary by Weir and decent sound and picture. Still, worth buying on its merit alone. I've seen this movie a dozen times, and I think its great."
An extraordinarily good film ...
Frederick Lane | Burlington, VT USA | 08/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At the end of a disappointing summer movie season, I've started watching some of my favorites on tape. This movie is near the top of my all-time list; here's why:ACTORS -- Most of the actors gave career-high performances in this movie. "Witness" helped establish Harrison Ford as a serious (i.e., non-Star Wars) action hero, and he demonstrates emotional range in this movie that doesn't show up very often in more recent films. Kelly McGillis is compelling, gradually and believably transforming from a shy widow out of her element to a strong, spirited member of her Amish community. Lukas Haas, who plays her son, offers a level of child acting that has only recently been matched by Haley Joel Osment. As other reviewers have noted, his wordless scene with Ford in the police station is a brilliant piece of acting -- an enormous amount of information and emotion is conveyed in complete silence. And Alexander Godunov brings a gentle grace to his role as the Amish farmer competing with Ford for McGillis' affections. It's sad that he didn't get more opportunities to demonstrate his acting ability before his death a few years later.CINEMATOGRAPHY/SCORE -- As with most of Peter Weir's films (cf. "Dead Poet's Society"), "Witness" is visually stunning. The shift from the gritty heart of Philadelphia to the rolling hills of Amish country is jarring, and leaves one with a palpable sense of longing. I think the barn-raising scene in the middle of the movie is one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen filmed, both visually and thematically. Underscored (so to speak) with music reminiscent of Copland's "Appalachian Spring," it drives home the value of community and shared endeavor. It's a marvelously uplifting segment.ROMANCE/EROTICISM -- The relationship between Ford and McGillis is very well done. The attraction that arises between them (driven in no small part, apparently, by Ford's kindness to the young boy) is constantly and realistically tempered by the awareness that they come from fundamentally different cultures. That slows the development of a relationship between them, which provides the movie with a delightful undercurrent of romantic tension. That tension reaches a peak in a powerful scene in which Ford sees McGillis giving herself a sponge bath. There is nudity in this scene (McGillis turns and shows herself, topless, to Ford), but it seems to be precisely the kind of nudity that, as actresses like to say, "is essential to the story." Given the way in which the Amish are portrayed in this film, McGillis' character is making a very bold (and risky) offer, and the difficulty of Ford's refusal is evident in his face. There certainly is a lot of gratuitous nudity in film, but "Witness" is not in that category.This movie is aging extremely well, in large part because of the sweep of its vision, the powerful simplicity of its story, and the skill of its execution. It is a terrific movie."