JT Film Review

86 – Witness (1985)

Witness (1985)

4/5 stars

Director – Peter Weir

Cast – Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Danny Glover, Brent Jennigs, Jossef Sommer, Alexander Godunov, Patti LuPone, Viggo Mortensen


Witness follows the story of a young Amish boy (played by Lukas Haas) who sees a murder take place. He later identifies the murderer to John Book (Harrison Ford). The hitch is that the murderer is a cop (Danny Glover), and when Ford reveals this to his boss (who turn out to be in cahoots with Glover), Ford goes into hiding with Haas to his Amish town. John Book falls in love with the boy’s mother, which of course, complicates things, and ends up driving the majority of the story along.

Witness was directed by Peter Weir, the Austrailian director of such films as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Fearless, and The Year of Living Dangerously. This film was his first real crack at the North American market, and it certainly made his name there. Audiences reacted so well that a film Weir had been previously trying (unsuccesfully) to make, The Mosquito Coast, was immediately given the green light. Critics reaction was also largely positive. The movie has also enjoyed popularity through numerous late-night cable airings, as well as for the many parodies of its “vanilla ice cream” scene, where an Amish man’s face is demeaningly smeared with ice cream by a local thug, who promptly gets a hay-maker or two from Harrison Ford.

Witness combines genres in an attempt to create a distinct tone. This is an admirable idea in principle, but I found that the transitions between genres were jarring. We bounce back and forth throughout the film between police thriller, inter-cultural melodrama, and romance from scene to scene. The flow wasn’t consistent in that respect. Couldn’t we have scenes that mix all three aspects? Of all the aspects that the movie focuses on, the”cop genre” feels the most heavy handed. When the shoot out at the end of the movie comes, it almost feels tacked on to create a suitable ending. I would have personally liked a non-violent ending, but the violence does feel a bit warranted and is fairly realistic. I guess I just want a cop movie with no shootout at the end. Too much to hope? Perhaps.

Lukas Haas, playing the naively innocent Amish boy, is a wonderful find , but the chemistry between Kelly McGillis and Harrsion Ford is the main reason that this movie works as well as it does. McGillis is excellent, and even though this is not Ford’s best work, as some say (personally I think his best work is in his next film, The Mosquito Coast), he carries a sense of compassion and the qualities of an everyman that remind us of a tough James Stewart. In the end, this is really what Ford is best at.


Witness works best when it focuses on its story of culture clash, with Ford’s tough cop forced to hide with peace loving and down to earth Amish. The movie unfortunately strays a bit with its romantic story-line, and the ending is a bit of a cop out, but this is a solid movie. All in all I think it is one of Peter Weir’s lesser works, despite being one of his most famous. But enjoy the good performances (including Viggo Mortenson’s film debut in a small role), and go for the ride. Definitely recommended.



“Witness” on other websites”

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia




April 29, 2010 - Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Crime, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: