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An 8 year old Amish boy and his mother are traveling to Philadelphia, on their way to visit the mother's sister. While waiting at the train station, the young boy witnesses a brutal murder inside one of the bathroom stall. Police detective John Book is assigned to investigate the murder of the man, who was a undercover cop. Soon after, Book finds out that he's in great danger when the culprits know about his investigation and hides out in the Amish community. There, he learns the way of living among the Amish locals, which consists of non-violence and agriculture. Book soon starts a romance with the mother of the little boy, but their romance is forbidden by the Amish standards. But, it's not long before the bad guys find out Book's whereabouts. Written by
Though it obeys some of the Hollywood formulas, "Witness" proves to be one of the most entertaining, exciting thrillers of all time!
I just recently watched this movie in my Development of Film class. We're studying the Social Drama. Last week we watched "Fury" with Spencer Tracy, so this week we watched a contemporary film in the genre. I have to give it up for Peter Weir! He did a spectacular job!
The premise is intriguing. A young Amish boy goes to the bathroom in a train station and witnesses a bloody murder. Enter Philadelphia cop John Book (Harrison Ford). Now, we had several discussions about this film and I started to realize some flaws that didn't exactly come clear in my mind at the time. First of all, a little innocent Amish boy isn't going to witness something that grisly and recover that well. Living in an Amish environment, he probably doesn't even know the definition of the word "violence." So the boy wouldn't be able to return to his native environment and go on with his life like usual. He'd keep having nightmares and flashbacks. He'd be traumatized 'til the day he dies! However, I have to note Lukas Haas delivered a terrific performance. I'm not sure how much appraise he got for this moderately thankless role. For a boy of his age to take on a role like that, I have to commend him. Lukas, in recent years, has concentrated on more independent works like "Boys" with Wynona Ryder and the underrated "johns" with David Arquette, in which he plays a gay prostitute. He's still a fine actor, and I'm impressed to see his advancement to more grown-up roles, but many probably forgot about him. So I think he should be remembered for that little role, even to this day. But typical Hollywood, Harrison Ford agrees to do a film--he's the star! And the whole subplot with the little boy gets pushed aside. Now, Harrison was terrific in this movie--probably why I wasn't bothered too much about him being the center of attention--and I think he's a very underrated actor (sure he's widely known, but recognize him more as a macho action hero than an actor), but I think if Weir decided to expand that subplot it would've made a more interesting film.
Kelly McGillis is convincing as the boy's Amish mother, who gets swept away by Book. Even as an Amish woman, I think she looked beautiful. I haven't exactly been traveling around Amish country, but I don't know how often you would find an Amish woman that beautiful. Plus, that scene where she's sponge-bathing topless--Wow! That brings me to another point. I like how Weir never actually decided to put a sex scene to demonstrate the relationship between her and Book. In the aforementioned sponge-bathing scene, there's a long period where they just stare at each other and there's absolutely no dialogue! I found that very impressive. It's a very erotic scene, without them actually having to jump into bed together. That's something you rarely see in the movies. The sexual tension between the two characters is simply impressed by their mannerisms. Danny Glover is convincingly frightening as the villain. Also look for an early performance by Viggo Mortensen. He doesn't have many--in fact, I don't if he has any--speaking parts, but he's in quite a few scenes.
There's a lot of good fish-out-of-water comedy when the city-born Book tries to learn the ways of the Amish. I was cracking up when Harrison puts on the Amish garb, with the bottom of his pants above his ankles. That's a picture worth a thousand words. Weir is fascinated by clashes in cultures, and it's highly evident in many scenes from this movie. Those scenes provide some good comic relief. This may be considered typical Hollywood, but I loved the scene where Harrison Ford gets out of the chariot (now as one of the Amish) to beat the crap out of one of the thugs who was giving them trouble. That was an awesome scene! Weir also captures some beautiful, sometimes breathtaking, shots of the scenery. The music is great too, especially in the barn-raising scene. The ending is well-done, and I liked how it wasn't one of those walk-into-the-sunset conclusions. I don't want to give anything away, but that was one of the non-typical Hollywood elements of the film.
Despite its now-discovered flaws, I still love this movie and wouldn't mind watching it on many repeat viewings. It's just a fascinating, wonderfully made piece of cinema that will hold its place in the history of celluloid. I urge you to witness this triumphant work!
My score: 9 (out of 10)
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