Witness (1985) Poster

(1985)

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8/10
"You be careful out among the English."
Nazi_Fighter_David3 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
It all starts off when a beautiful Amish widow takes her little son Samuel from their home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to visit her sister in Baltimore and try to get over her grief...

While passing through Philadelphia, and on entering alone a men's restroom in a train station, Samuel glances up to see two men advancing with unmistakable menace toward a young man... He caught sight of the face of one of the two attackers who killed him...

As the plot becomes more intricate, and through a series of interesting events, detective John Book finds himself forced to protect the shy eight-year-old boy and his helpless mother... He disappears for some days in the Amish Country...

Harrison Ford stars as a fugitive cop who is initially unwelcome in a community he knows a little about... He tries to learn the importance of family and community, the philosophy of brotherhood and non-resistance... He becomes involved in a case that will essentially change his human perceptions... And later, he finds himself falling in love with a sensitive young woman...

Kelly McGillis is captivating as Rachel, a woman who feels a shadow of confusion crossing her mind... She stares at the honest cop, realizing the price he's paid in returning them to safety...

In one scene she catches him watching her bath... She hesitates for a moment, but in that precise moment she makes a choice... Slowly she turns to face him, topless, without shame... For a moment she attempts a tender effort to become, for an instant, a woman of his world...

In another scene we see her playing the charade of her life... Bound by duty, but tempted by desire, she leaves her white cap - symbol of her identity - on the table, and surrenders to a passion, that makes her sensual nature say it all...

Lukas Haas is very fine as the cute kid in the black coat and hat... He slowly raises his hand to point at the black and white photograph... This nice boy remains untouched by the violence interposed into his peaceful world...

Jan Rubes is believable as Rachel's father-in-law Eli... He is torn by conflicts between faith, discipline, dedication and humility... He tries his best to protect what's left of his family from the pressures of the outside world... It's pretty clear he doesn't like this Englishman wearing the clothes of his faith... For him his daughter-in-law has brought fear to his house... and now she is dancing to English music!

Alexander Godunov brings a solid performance to the role of Daniel, Rachel's discarded suitor... It's no surprise that he wants the disappearance of the policeman... Book's tempting presence will only weak his chance with Rachel... In one remarkable scene and on a road running parallel to the train track, he urges his horse almost to the gallop as he attempts to keep pace with the train...

It is quite interesting to see Danny Glover as a crooked cop, who's corrupt and evil... But the heart of the movie is a study of the Pennsylvania Amish through the eyes of an outsider suddenly introduced into their life... Peter Weir tries to paint a realistic portrait of the Amish who are best known for their severely 'plain clothing' and their 'non-conformed' way of life... The Amish also avoid telephones and electric lights and drive horses and buggies rather than cars...

Weir delivers a powerful and romantic story, an engaging film of different style, mixing two different cultures, the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle with the urban culture and fashion... The music and cinematography work beautifully to impart all the emotions of the characters...

'Witness' (won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Original Screenplay. Nominations for Best Actor (Ford), Art Direction, Cinematography, Director, Score and Best Picture..) is quiet provoking.. thrilling and entertaining.. I highly recommend it..

If you look carefully, you'll spot Viggo Mortensen in his screen debut.. as Moses Hochleitner, Daniel's little brother...
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9/10
topnotch
Robert D. Ruplenas13 September 2002
This is one of those movies whose virtues and subtleties become more and more apparent with subsequent viewings. The crime story is nothing more than a pretense - a "MacGuffin", in Hitchcock's phrase - on which to hang this sensitive and insightful story of the conflict between modernity and the culture of the Amish, which is portrayed here with admiring respect and not a hint of condescension.

Harrison Ford's portrayal of John Book is perhaps his finest work on screen so far. In particular, Book's struggle to suppress his rising attraction for Rachel, and his tormented realization that a relationship between them is not possible, is achingly portrayed. Ford's effort is well-matched by Kelly McGillis, whose beauty here is almost breathtaking. The erotic interplay between them, because it is unconsummated, radiates an almost painful tension, and the easily lampooned "running through the field" scene - because it has been led up to so convincingly - is almost heartbreaking. The character of Eli Lapp, wonderfully played by Jan Rubes, is richly multifaceted. His suspicion of the "English" outsider and his anger at Rachel's attraction to him, is surmounted by an underlying humanity. His parting words to Book, "You be careful out there among them English," are moving testimony to his acceptance of him. His stern yet loving dialogue to his grandson about renouncing hatred and violence is a treasured moment.

Both direction and cinematography are splendid. The simplicity of Amish interiors is shot in a way that makes its austerity almost beautiful, and the barnraising scene is an exercise in cinematic lyricism.

It would be easy to fault the movie for the facile scene in which the punks taunting of Book's newfound friends and protectors drives him over the edge (Eli: "It's not our way, Book" / Book: "No, but it's MY way."), but his gift to the young thug of a bloody nose is mighty satisfying to behold.

My one criticism is with the music; certainly not with the venerable Maurice Jarre's score itself, but with its paltry synthesized realization. They should have found the money to spring for a full orchestra.

In short, a highly satisfying, richly themed, and multifaceted film which is well worth watching.
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'Witness' is a remarkably intelligent movie!
microfx29 November 2002
Won Oscars for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, and Best Editing. Nominated for five more Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor, Harrison Ford, and Best Director Peter Weir. Weir Directed the 'The Year of Living Dangerously', and 'The Truman Show'. After seeing it maybe 10 times, I find it is one of those infrequent stories that still draws my attention. This places it in the company of pictures like 'The Godfather', and some others which stand the test of repeat viewings over time. Kelly McGillis is the film's intelligent and talented secret weapon. Her performance makes me wonder where she is these days. She is an Amish widow from a rural Amish community. On a trip to the city her little boy witnesses a murder in the restroom of a train station. Police investigator Harrison Ford finds himself targeted along with the boy by corrupt cops in his unit that did the murder. He is hurt in a shootout and hides with the Amish. He wears Amish clothes, and labors with the men of the community as he rebuilds his strength. An attraction naturally develops between the McGillis and Ford charactors. The chemistry is remarkably intelligent, and authentically portrayed. Their worlds are seperated by a cultural gulf. They are drawn by each other, and respect one another. The contrasts are drawn clearly between the quaint honesty and almost dreamlike serenity of the Amish, and the horrible violence intruding upon them from the outside world. The resolution of the story should not be given away to someone who has not seen the movie. This film is a different kind of thriller in more ways than one. It's makers kept it intelligent, instead of resorting to another pyrotechnic joyride. -Robert Hartman-
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Witness This Film!
postmanwhoalwaysringstwice18 February 2003
Harrison Ford is one of those actors that often times just shows up and then there lies his character. This is the Harrison Ford school of acting. Not the case in "Witness". I won't begin to wonder what would have caused this change of pace, but it was quite a surprise to see. Peter Weir is a favorite director of mine, mainly for his life changing films (for the viewer and the characters alike), like "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and "Fearless" ... and I have sadly waited a very long time to get around to this one. Even 17 years after its initial release, it seems to still stand up with themes that truly speak. I expected some sort of a courtroom drama, but instead found a film that presents a dichotomy between old world and new world values and sensibilities and really asks whether change is always for the best. This is a profound and exciting thriller.
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not so flawed...
tanya-6327 January 2002
An earlier comment on the site suggests that the film is flawed because the Amish boy, coming from a secure, peaceful environment, would not be able to witness a scene of brutality without becoming utterly traumatised.

Far from being a flaw, I believe this is a key statement of the theme of the film - that the close, peaceful and loving upbringing he has enjoyed provide the boy with an emotional strength and resilience that allows him to recognise evil and reject it. Later that same environment will provide the embittered and emotionally scarred with a temporary oasis where he can in part recover from the loveless violence of his own life.

Contrast the failure of community in the vast and soulless terminal building, where the first scene is set, where every one is isolated by the indifference and aggression of their fellow travellers, with the co-operative endeavour of the justly famous barn raising scene, where even the outsider is welcomed and included in an act of joint creation.
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10/10
One Of The Best Crime Moves Ever
ccthemovieman-124 June 2006
You want to know how to make a successful movie? Just look here. You have tremendous suspense, a top-flight popular actor as the hero, a touching romance story, plenty of action, a different kind of setting than normal, people you care about, nice photography, very moral and very immoral people, a little humor.....I mean, this is how it's done.

I also appreciated seeing Amish people (of which I am not) portrayed in a better light than secular Hollywood usually puts them. I also liked the wholesome female lead Kelly McGillis (although she was the only Amish character out of character, a bit loose than what you would ever find) and who didn't think young Lukas Haas was the cutest kid they ever saw on film?

Harrison Ford gives a typical solid performance as John Book, a Philadelphia detective who winds up protecting the young boy ("Samuel Lapp"), his mom (McGillis as "Rachel Lapp") and others against crooked cops (Hollywood's favorite kind). Along the way, he is near-fatally shot and winds up being cared for and living in the Amish community in which the Lapps reside. During that time, we also have the blossoming romance between the two leads and then a dramatic shootout at the end when the cops find out where "Book" is staying.

There are many memorable scenes in this movie, from the boy hiding in the bathroom stall as a murder takes place; Ford slugging some goon who was making fun of the Amish; Ford and McGillis dancing in the hayloft to an old rock 'n roll tune; the Amish lifestyles and the raising of the barn; and the suspenseful ending.

This is a great stuff: one of the best crime stories of the "modern age" and one of the few "R-rated" films that reached this high a popularity.
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Though it obeys some of the Hollywood formulas, "Witness" proves to be one of the most entertaining, exciting thrillers of all time!
mattymatt4ever3 October 2001
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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10/10
Deep and wonderful
waynepenner31 December 2004
This beautiful love story contrasts corruption with goodness.

Harrison Ford underplays his role so well it is scandalous – his Hollywood buddies must have laughed their arses off at him taking this role… what some cop living with Amish? Sounds lame right, until all the Oscar nom's start pouring in … But he is nothing short of brilliant as Detective John Book. I love the scene when he gets that old car-radio working, that old heap of junk in a barn that opens up his love with Rachel, and she dances and sings for the first time in her life.

It is beautifully written, the screenplay is flawless, the editing is flawless. The pacing is flawless but won't appeal to those who want car-chases and guns going off all over the place, and a beer and a hot-dog for dinner ... uh you know who I mean …

This film gives a gentle insight into the simple sweetness of Amish life. Us "sophisticates" with our frequent-flyers and cell phones and iPods and laptops and instant everything … we all may be missing something they already found…

A wonderfully inspirational and deeply satisfying film.
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9/10
Regarding the accents...
sslop8 April 2005
I would like to clear up a couple of comments made by movieguy1021, who wrote:

"One thing I didn't understand is how come everyone seemed to use such strong accents yet they've been living in America for a long time."

Most Amish communities mainly speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a dialect of German, hence the accents in the film. Amish children learn English in school.

And:

"Also, although I may not be the end-all, be-all of Amish knowledge, it seems like for people so strict in their rules, they broke them easily. They didn't seem to object to riding in trains or cars, or even using technology."

The Amish accept some forms of modernisation as long as it is not deemed disruptive to their social structure. Some forms of primitive technology are accepted in their community, such as devices that assist with milking cows. Likewise they accept rides in cars, but members of the community cannot own them.
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8/10
Great story, great filmmaking
jmartinsson23 May 2001
'Witness' is about a guy who is a total product of the big city - he's a tough cop, he relies on cars, phones, and guns - who hides at an Amish farm to prevent a boy (the witness) and himself from being found by the killers.

The film is less about Harrison Ford learning to live among the Amish as it is the Amish learning to live with Ford. He is a man who at first glance has no matching ideals. The film is fantastic on that level, especially thanks to Peter Weir's direction, who brilliantly shows Ford gradually becoming accepted by the Amish men.

There is very little dialogue among the characters, and Rachel (McGillis) talks even less, not because she doesn't have anything to say, but because Amish rules of life don't seem to allow her to. They are presented as a quiet people, so McGillis has the difficult task of making Rachel speak without dialogue, and she does it well, which carries over to Ford (he got an Oscar nomination, she didn't).

It's only at the climax of the film, when the action takes over that the film begins to weaken. The filmmakers seem to have some kind of answer to how the killer's storyline should be resolved, but it's not very good.

Despite the flaw, the film is excellent based on the performances of the cast, the editor who had to put all the dialogue-less scenes together (and later, won the Oscar for it), and Weir's masterful handling of the story.
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10/10
As good as film-making gets
CarpenterKen9 May 1999
I've seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of films, and when asked which is my favorite my decision keeps coming back to "Witness," Australian director Peter Weir's masterpiece. Fabulously acted, beautifully photographed . . . it's just perfect. Outside of the well-known stars (Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Danny Glover) look for brilliant work from Josef Sommers and an amazingly understated performance by the late Alexander Godunov.
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7/10
"We want nothing to do with your laws"
ackstasis29 June 2008
I daresay that I would have enjoyed 'Witness (1985)' even more had it remained a conventional mystery thriller. This, perhaps, reflects rather negatively on my film-buff credentials, but the film's opening act mounted the tension so brilliantly that it was a pity to see that suspense slowly dissipate into the background. Such an appeal, however, seems quite groundless where director Peter Weir is concerned; given my previous experience with his work, both in Australian cinema (the classic war picture, 'Gallipoli (1981)') and following his move to Hollywood (the uplifting 'Dead Poet's Society (1989)'), Weir has always favoured emotion and human interaction over the raw thrill of adrenalin-charged action. Even as it stands, 'Witness' deserves to be celebrated for its strong performances, sensitive screenplay and thoughtful exploration of the contrast between the pacifism of the Amish people and the violence and corruption of 1980s mainstream America. The film was Weir's first in Hollywood, after achieving great success with the Australian productions 'Gallipoli' and 'The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).'

Following the death of her husband, a grieving Amish woman, Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis), takes her young son Samuel (Lukas Haas) into the city. It is Samuel's first major venture into the lifestyle shunned by his people, and he is initially awed and excited by all the fresh sights and sounds presented to him. But it doesn't take long for the reality of modern society, corrupted and poisoned by the stench of greed and violence, to rear it's ugly head – in the bathroom of a railway station, Samuel witnesses the brutal murder of a city detective, and only he can identify the men responsible. A weary cop, Det. Capt. John Book (Harrison Ford), employs the young boy's help in solving the case, and, when Samuel positively identifies a respected narcotics detective from his own department, Book begins to understand that they've stumbled into something far deeper than anybody could ever have anticipated. Now with a price on his head, Book falls into hiding with the reluctant Amish community, and both parties come to learn a thing or two about the conflicting values of their respective worlds.

Harrison Ford has rarely given a better performance. He's not an actor whom one would typically associate with having a lot of emotional range, but John Book is an intriguingly-subtle character. Note, most particularly, the scene in which Book and Rachel dance in the barn to Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" – throughout the entire sequence, Book is continually pausing, contemplating the physical contact that is seemingly obligatory in cinematic moments such as these, and consistently deciding against it. Kelly McGillis is remarkably beautiful as the emotionally-conflicted widow, all the more because her character actively attempts to repress any lingering streaks of eroticism (and also thanks to her Amish attire, which fortunately denied her one of those horrifically-dated 1980s hairstyles – see 'Top Gun (1987)'). A crucial benefit of the film's sobering middle act, supplemented by the soft, graceful cinematography of John Seale, is that the audience gradually loses his desensitisation towards violence on film, and so the story's brutal climax is a completely jarring shock to the nerves.
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8/10
When two worlds collide
Maziun31 December 2013
„Witness" works on 3 levels – as a thriller , drama and romance. The thriller elements of the movie appear at the beginning and the ending of the movie, while the middle of the film is basically a drama with a love story in it. It's an interesting combination and while it might not work for those who like pure thrillers or dramas it certainly worked for me. One has to remember that "Witness" is first a electrifying and poignant love story , then the thriller. A romantic thriller.

It's a movie worth watching just for the fact that is first and one of the few films to focus on Amish culture. As a kid I would laugh at their philosophy of life . The more and more I'm getting older the more I'm thinking they are right. The Amish way of life has many virtues - they have a deep faith in God , pacifism , sense of community.

"Witness" is a story about cultural clash between two completely different worlds. Both cultures are forced to come together. Each one had to search out the moralities, prejudices and actions of the other. The film is thankfully devoid of easy moralizing.

It's an interesting thing that Sylvester Stallone ("Rocky") and Jack Nicholson ("One flew over the cuckoo nest") were considered for the role of John Book . While I do believe that they would handle the role very well , I'm happy that Harrison Ford ("Raiders of the lost ark") got the part in the end. Harrison Ford gives his finest performance in "Witness" , the only one which got him an Oscar nomination. Hord walks away from his hero persona (Indiana Jones , Han Solo). His John Book isn't stereotypical cynical and strong cop. His tough enough to be convincing as a city cop , but it's more about his sense of duty and dignity. It's interesting how the film uses Ford's real-life carpenter's talent. Kelly McGillis ("Top gun") also gives a great and underrated performance , the best in her career. Her Rachel is very sensible and lonely woman , who finds soul mate in Book. Both Ford and McGillis have a wonderful chemistry together . The say much more by the things they don't say (for example the bating scene , the dance scene). The romantic plot reaches it's climax with one of the best on-screen kisses in the history of film. This brief-scene is powerful , sincere and moving. The love story here is beautiful and tragic.

Danny Glover("Lethal weapon") does a nice job as the bad guy. Who could forget Lukas Haas ("Inception") as the Amish kid. His cheerful , colorful face is something that can't go unseen. Watch out for Viggo Mortensen ("The Lord of the rings " trilogy) in his debut as an Amish.

Peter Weir gives a brilliant direction . This is a simple story wit heart . Every dramatic moment is powerful and every small scene is important. Weir isn't a action/thriller director , yet he gives us great Hitchcockian set pieces such as the scene in the toilet and the final confrontation in style of "High noon" (silo death).

The screenplay quite rightfully won the Oscar. The film's script by Earl W. Wallace, William Kelley and Pamela Wallace has become a frequent model for budding screenwriters, often used to display clear structure in a screenplay. It is a film about adults, whose lives have dignity and whose choices matter to them just like it's a story about cops.

The soundtrack by Maurice Jarre is good , but I think it would have sounded much better with real orchestra instead of synthesizer. John Searle's cinematography is gorgeous – the scene of raising the barn is cinematic lyricism.

Highly recommended. I give it 8/10.
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8/10
Witness (1985)
ashish sood7 February 2013
It is a film about adults, whose lives have dignity and whose choices matter to them. The story focuses on a detective (Harrison Ford) protecting a young Amish boy who becomes the target of a ruthless killer after he witnesses a brutal murder. Witness is as much about the meeting of cultures as about cops and robbers, this is one of those lucky movies which works out well on all counts and shows that there are still craftsmen lurking in Hollywood. The film is powerful, assured, full of beautiful imagery and devoid of easy moralising, which is good. Ford is Chicago Detective John Book, assigned to investigate a murder that was committed by crooked cop Danny Glover. The only witness is the son of an Amish widow, played by Kelly McGillis. When Book gets too close to the truth, the crooked cops try to kill him, forcing Book to take it on the lamb and hide out in the Amish country. There, he slowly makes a transition into their society, their way of life, and of course, he starts to fall for Kelly McGillis. (who would later star with pretty boy Cruise in "Top Gun"). Alexander Godunov, who later played the murderous Karl in "Die Hard", makes his debut here as an Amish farmer who is, Ford's romantic rival for Kelly. Also making his debut here is a much younger Viggo Mortensen as another Amish father. Mortensen's barely evident in the role out here,although had his eventual success as Aragorn in "Lord of the Rings" ........ After Star Wars & Indiana Jones,Ford succeeded in a serious role and his multi-layered performance earned him his only Oscar Nomination till date.Well directed Romantic Thriller by Peter Weir (Director of Dead poet's Society and Truman Show) that earned him his first Academy Award Nomination. Do watch this one for great Cinematography and Artwork

My Rating - 8/10
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8/10
"You be careful out among the English."
romanorum118 June 2013
After her husband's premature death, a young Amish woman, Rachel Lapp (Kelley McGillis), takes her son Samuel (Lukas Haas) on a train trip to Baltimore. While in the men's washroom at the Philadelphia station, young Samuel witnesses a brutal murder. By his own wits he saves himself from the scary murderer McFee (Danny Glover). Detective John Book (Harrison Ford), summoned to the murder scene, perceives that the dead man is an undercover cop. He questions Rachel and Samuel. From a photograph, Samuel fingers McFee, among others a corrupt cop. McFee had stolen large quantities of a chemical substance used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The bad guys try to set up Book for a hit, but fail (although he is wounded by McFee). Now searched by the bad guys, Book goes into hiding in Pennsylvania German (Amish) country (Lancaster County, PA) to blend in with the religious sect.

The middle part of the movie, and by far the greater segment overall, is the focus on the Amish community. This section is almost a documentary. We learn that the Amish shun the new ways, and live much as they did in the eighteenth century. Unlike the nearby Mennonites, the Amish reject automobiles, electricity, and telephones. Gas lamps are used. The Amish ride in traditional horse and buggy units while heavy traffic passes them by (when they can). They wear plain clothes and use hooks and eyes, rather than buttons or zippers, which they consider proud and vain. There is a nice barn-raising scene, where the Amish people together erect a barn within one day for a newly married couple. We see how the tourists think about the Amish, and Book's reaction to human pests. There is the obvious clash between the modern (Book-urban) and the olden (Rachel-rural) ways. Nevertheless, as Book outwardly becomes part of the Amish community, Rachel and he begin to draw closer. The sponge bath scene is probably the most notable one in the movie. If John and Rachel decide to come together, one of them will have to give up his/her ways, for there is no middle ground. What will happen?

Meanwhile three bad cops, including corrupt Chief Schaeffer (played by Josef Sommer) and McFee, track down their quarry and arrive in Amish country to do in Book. So the final scenario is the shootout between the good and the bad. What will the peaceful Amish people do? Perhaps not what you may expect!

The acting is very good all-around. Harrison Ford may have given us his best performance here as a decent cop (who does not overact), although others may opt with justification for "The Fugitive" or the "Indiana Jones" series. Kelley McGillis makes a fine and dedicated Amish lady. Jan Rubes plays moral kingpin Eli Lapp, while Danny Glover is indeed chilling as a bad cop. The subtleties / expressions of the actors work so well. For instance, Lukas Haas's bewildered face when he spots McFee's photo in the police station speaks volumes. Of course, the looks of Mc Gillis and Ford during the famous sponge bath scene do not require a word of dialog. See this movie more than once.
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9/10
One of the best films of the eighties and one of the best police thrillers of all time
James Hitchcock7 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
If a poll were to be taken on who is the greatest living film director, a strong contender for my vote would be Peter Weir. (Other contenders would be Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese). He is able to produce both brilliantly original films quite different to anything else and also brilliant work within the confines of an established genre, an ability he shares with Scorsese and the late Stanley Kubrick. (As for Allen, he has turned the Woody Allen Film into a genre in its own right). Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock and "The Truman Show" are both, in their different ways, strange and haunting films, different to anything before or since, and two of my favourite films of all time. On the other hand, "Dead Poets' Society", another of my favourite films, falls within the conventions of the "inspirational teacher" film, but is in my view the greatest example of that genre ever made. (Only "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" comes anywhere near it).

"Witness", his first film made outside Australia, is another example of Weir simultaneously working within an established genre and transcending it. On one level it is a traditional police thriller. While travelling with his mother a young boy named Samuel Lapp witnesses a murder in the washrooms at Philadelphia railway station. It turns out that the murdered man was an undercover police officer, and a homicide detective, John Book, is assigned to the case. Book's investigations lead him to the discovery that the murder was carried out by a narcotics officer named McFee, one of a group of corrupt officers in league with a gang of drug smugglers. Book is forced to go underground for safety, taking Samuel and his mother Rachel with him.

On another level the film is a love story, as a romance develops between Book and Rachel, a beautiful young widow. Neither the crime story nor the romance element, however, would by themselves make this film anything out of the ordinary. What makes the film different is the third level, a study of cultural differences. Samuel and Rachel are members of the Amish religious sect, and it is among the Amish that they and Book take refuge while hiding from the villains.

It would be easy to see the Amish, as portrayed in this film, as being quaint, even comically reactionary. They speak an archaic German dialect inaccurately known as "Pennsylvania Dutch" (although some of the lines in the film are in standard modern German). They follow a strict set of rules known as the "Ordnung" which govern every aspect of their daily lives. They may not own a television or a telephone and may not use electricity in the home. They drive horse-drawn buggies as it is forbidden to own or drive a motor vehicle. They have a strict dress code and are even forbidden to use buttons, regarded as a sign of "Hochmut", or pride. Those who violate these rules can be punished by shunning. The Amish habitually refer to all non-Amish Americans, regardless of ethnic background, as "the English". (News of the Declaration of Independence clearly has not yet filtered through to them).

Yet, eccentric though they may seem to outsiders, Weir shows us that the Amish way of life has many virtues. They have a deep faith in God and believe in the importance of submission to His will. They have a strong sense of community. They are pacifists who are opposed to any violence or the taking of a human life; this article of their creed brings them into conflict with Book, who is required to carry a gun as part of his job and who is ready to use it, or his first, in self-defence or the defence of others. Because of the gulf between their value-systems, the love of Book and Rachel is potentially tragic; they can only be together if she is prepared to leave her world, or if he is prepared to enter it.

Surprisingly, this was the film that brought Harrison Ford his only Oscar nomination to date. I say "surprisingly", as he has given many other fine performances in films such as "Blade Runner", "The Fugitive" and "K-19". "Witness", however, remains one of his best films; his Book is tough and uncompromising but decent, and capable of tenderness in the love scenes. Kelly McGillis, in her first major role, is luminously beautiful as Rachel; she was to give another great performance three years later in "The Accused", and I have always been surprised that her subsequent career has not been quite as successful. None of her films since 1988 have aroused as much interest as "Witness" or "The Accused", and she has not remained a household name in the same way as some of her contemporaries such as Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer or Jodie Foster.

Despite the film's deeper levels of meaning, Weir does not neglect the thriller elements; there are some great Hitchcockian set pieces such as the scene where Samuel is hiding in the lavatories from the killer, or the final scene where Book confronts the villains who have invaded the Amish community in their search for him. In the scenes seen from Samuel's viewpoint, Weir uses low-angle shots to emphasise the boy's youth and vulnerability. The film, however, also has echoes of other genres, particularly the Western. The final scene has been compared to the climax of "High Noon" in which Gary Cooper also takes out his enemies one by one. (A similar climax was used in another Western, Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider", also made in 1985). The spectacular barn-raising sequence, accompanied by Maurice Jarre's memorable score, also recalls the Western. With its intelligent script, fine acting and fine direction, "Witness" can be regarded as one of the best films of the eighties and one of the best police thrillers of all time. 9/10
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9/10
Genuine Thriller with a Heart!
g-bodyl20 June 2013
Witness is a very good thriller with great moments of characterization and that is what sets it apart from other thrillers. Also, you really cannot classify this as thriller for the entire film because the middle portion is a haunting study on a group of peaceful people living away from technology. Harrison Ford gets out of his action movies to have one of the best roles of his career playing John Book.

Peter Weir's film is about a hard-nosed detective named John Book who investigates a murder that a small Amish boy witnessed. Thanks to some betrayal, John is forced to live with the Amish and away from being a cop, he forbiddenly falls in love with Rachel, a beautiful Amish woman.

As mentioned before, Harrison gives one of his better roles and is full of heartfelt emotion. Kelly McGillis, in her second ever movie, rises to great heights with her shy performance. I also find it ironic how Danny Glover plays a villain who murders cops right before his famed Lethal Weapon series.

Overall, Witness is a beautifully shot film that has some intense scenes especially in the beginning and the end. We get to meet a group of people that stay away from society. The music by Maurice Jarre is wonderful and fits well with the themes of the movie. I find it funny how an award-winning thriller like this was released in February. I rate this film 9/10.
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9/10
An excellent movie by all standards.
twomainiacs22 July 2012
Most of the reviewers have already stated the premise of the movie and all its details (and well done I might add). I think my only comment is phrased "When Worlds Collide". The work put into the Amish community...its faith, ideals, work ethic and implied fears was outstanding to say the least. Harrison Ford is simply a very good actor...it is always a pleasure to watch him work so effortlessly (or so it seems) in playing a character. But it was the different backgrounds of societies that caused me to enjoy this movie so much. Both cultures are forced to come together. Each one had to search out the moralities, prejudices and actions of the other. The Director obviously did his work and it showed. I suppose some will disapprove of the odds of the scenario. But, Hey, it's a movie. Get over it already. For those of you reading this before watching the film...enjoy, enjoy and enjoy.........Q(:-}
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8/10
Well worth seeing--unless you can't see it because of your religious values!
MartinHafer13 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I am certainly no expert on the Amish (a name give which covers Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, Hutterites, and Old German Baptist Brethren ) and I am sure this film would have bothered many of them had they been able to watch it--though the Amish, especially, would shun such modern contrivances as movies. The film was violent and showed a woman whose convictions suddenly vanished because of raging hormones--surely this might offend a few. I doubt if minor details would have offended (such as all the sexy Quaker guys had no beards!). But, despite these difficulties, Peter Weir did manage to direct a very compelling film.

The plot is very believable. I have spent tons of time in Philadelphia, so seeing the Amish walking about (especially at Reading Market downtown) is believable (these are generally the more liberal-minded Amish). And, a scene where a guy is brutally stabbed in a bathroom is very believable for Philly (I've personally witnessed 6 or 7 only this year alone). I am not sure, however, how much the Philadelphia Police Department appreciated the film, as it said that they were run by a group of evil racketeers.

An Amish woman (Kelly McGillis) takes her son on a train trip to Baltimore to see her sister. However, at the train station, the boy just happens to be in the bathroom where a cold-blooded murder of an undercover cop occurs. The boy is smart, however, and hides---and manages to be the only witness to the slaying. When the police investigate, the Captain (Harrison Ford) takes the case personally (is this realistic?) and uses the kid to try to track down one of the killers who he can identify. However, when it turns out that the killer is a police lieutenant (Danny Glover), there is a problem--as the problem turns out to be a lot bigger and the Chief is clearly part of a much deeper conspiracy. So what is Ford to do now that he realizes that he and the boy are both about to be killed to protect this criminal empire? Yep, he and the kid and the hot mom head back to Lancaster County--to the so-called 'Amish Country' to hide out among the good, honest folk.

The film gets kudos for very good acting, a nicely relaxed film style and a great story with a very exciting ending. Even with the gratuitous scenes of McGillis' breasts (again, had the Amish been able to see the film, they would NOT have been amused), it is a case of excellent story-telling. Compelling throughout and it works best for me because of how they ended the thing--without a cop-out perfect ending like you'd expect from many Hollywood productions.
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this film is one of the best in the 80's.
psagray16 May 2012
In his first trip to Philadelphia, "Samuel Lap", a child of a community "Amish" presence by chance the brutal murder of a man. "John Book" (Harrison Ford) will protect the police charged him and his mother, who want to eliminate the child no matter what. When "Book" learns that the murder is linked to a web of corruption within the police, takes refuge in the village of Samuel.

It's a great film Australian director Peter Weir ("The Truman Show," "Dead Poets Society") variable genre, between police and dramatic. Harrison Ford gets one of the best performances of his career impersonating John Book,. Photography, beautiful soundtrack, direction, script and performances make this film one of the best in the 80's.

In "Witness" we enter the world of the Amish through a great script by Earl W. Wallace and William Kelley (got a deserved Oscar). The film is a thriller extraordinary, impeccable manufacturing, and develops with wit and ability to suggestion, a subject that deals with police corruption. H. Ford plays a character made to order, as that character caught between two worlds, and that Peter Weir with his management knows the best out of the actor, in one of his best performances. Special mention for photography John Seale and the music of Maurice Jarre, not to mention the perfect work of Lukas Haas and Kelly McGillis.
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8/10
A brilliant tale of justice and forbidden love
jamiecostelo5818 December 2006
Witness expertly details the interesting and sometimes difficult lives of people who are not always accepted in the community. In this case it's the Amish. When a young Amish boy witnesses a murder, it's up to Det. John Book to bring the killers to justice. This is probably Harrison Ford's best performance of his career, as Book has to protect the young boy and his mother (a terrific Kelly McGillis) by joining the Amish community and adjusting to their way of life.

It's a very simple script, and McGillis is extremely convincing as Rachel, a mother who gradually falls for the man whose meant to be her protector. The chemistry between McGillis and Ford builds and builds to a divine conclusion, while equally wonderful background music heightens the emotions involved.

The final showdown with the killers makes Witness even more compelling viewing, and certainly proves the point that not everyone is to be trusted...

The lack of dialogue in the scene in which Book and Rachel finally part adds to the sympathetic and emotional impact of their feelings for one another. The simple gaze in their eyes shows this to great effect, and marked a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful and captivating film.
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9/10
Murder, Corruption & Doomed Love
seymourblack-115 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Witness" is a subtle, thoughtful and intelligently directed film which is both a crime thriller and an extraordinary love story. A police investigation into a brutal murder provides this drama with its momentum and drive and a tragic romantic tale adds the intensity, warmth and poignancy that elevates this movie to a higher level than that normally achieved by more routine thrillers. The story about two people from different backgrounds who fall in love, but know that their love can't transcend their circumstances, has a timeless and universal appeal which explains why this movie has retained its popularity so consistently since it was first released in 1985.

When a recently widowed young Amish woman and her son are in a train station in Philadelphia, the 8-year-old boy witnesses the murder of an undercover cop. Detective Captain John Book (Harrison Ford) is put in charge of the investigation and questions Samuel Lapp (Lukas Haas), but even after showing him mug shots and arranging line-ups of suspects, the boy isn't able to finger the culprit. A little while later, however, Samuel is looking around the police office when he notices the killer's picture on a newspaper clipping that's pinned up inside a glass cabinet. When he brings this to Book's attention, it's quite a shock because the man in the photograph is the highly decorated Detective Lieutenant McFee (Danny Glover) of the Narcotics Division.

Detective Book tells his superior officer Detective Chief Schaeffer (Josef Sommer) about this development and Schaeffer asks him to keep the information confidential. Shortly after, when he's shot at and injured by McFee, it becomes obvious to Book that McFee and Schaeffer are both corrupt and Samuel and his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) are in mortal danger. In order to protect them, Book drives them back to their Amish community but after his arrival there, he collapses and has to remain with the Amish where Rachel gradually nurses him back to health.

During Book's period of recuperation, he and Rachel fall in love but he soon realises that neither of them could survive indefinitely in the other's world. Book adapts well to living with the Amish and earns their respect as he readily helps with milking cows and building a barn, but his presence in their community places them in danger, as becomes all too clear when the story reaches its action-packed conclusion.

Non-verbal communication is used frequently in this movie and provides the action with an extremely natural feel. A couple of the stand-out sequences are those in which Samuel looks at Book in a way that immediately signifies that he's seen something important (when he sees McFee's photograph) and another is when Book and Rachel dance together in a barn to Sam Cooke's "What A Wonderful World". The power to convey their thoughts and feelings so clearly in this way is very touching at times and also testifies strongly to the quality of the acting.

The differences between the worlds that Book and Rachel inhabit couldn't be greater as the Amish reside in rural surroundings and live a quiet, non-violent existence in which it's normal for everyone to help everyone else. These people embrace old fashioned values and don't use modern conveniences such as cars and refrigerators etc. By contrast, Book's existence as a city cop is far less serene and regularly brings him into contact with violence, corruption and various other forms of errant human behaviour.

"Witness", with its interesting characters, its absorbing story of murder, corruption and doomed love and its marvellous acting performances, is tremendously enjoyable to watch and leaves a lasting impression.
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9/10
Poignant and unexpectedly moving
Leofwine_draca17 April 2011
One of the most underrated films of the 1980s, WITNESS is a heartfelt exploration of America's Amish community. The Amish are a Christian group who shun modern-day technology in favour of a simple life. Into their midst is thrown Harrison Ford, a tough city cop who must learn to cope with their insular society.

The thriller aspects, while wonderfully handled, come second to the film's exploration of Amish culture. Peter Weir is at his best here, directing some sublime scenes (who can forget the barn raising sequence?) and eliciting strong performances from his entire cast. Ford is fine, but it's Kelly McGillis and particularly Lukas Haas who shine as the god-fearing folk who find themselves propelled into a world of violence and the unknown.

Pretty much everything you could want from a good film.
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8/10
Beautifully crafted film that excels where it matters
vovazhd17 March 2008
Although Witness is labeled as a crime drama, it spends more time showing us the Amish culture than doing any dirty work. The intriguing contrast between mainstream American society and the elusive Amish culture is the main thing that differentiates Witness from other films. The story involves a police captain named John Book. He obtains a child witness for the homicide of a police officer, but then discovers that other officers were involved in the crime. After being attacked and suffering a bullet wound, he flees into the countryside and submerges into the Amish community.

Harrison Ford does a great job as John Book. He has a charismatic and likable personality that suits him perfectly for the role. The Amish characters all look very natural and authentic. I felt that the grandfather made an especially powerful character. The rival officers (acted by Josef Sommer and Danny Glover) take a back seat for most of the film, but are solid characters as well.

The cinematography of the film is excellent. An example of good filming easily comes to mind: the segment where the Amish people construct a building. This part made me understand their ambitions. The steady camera pans of the countryside (with a good musical score) are also effective. It really felt like the images pulled me into their world.

Witness succeeds where it matters: in creating another world that we rarely imagine throughout our own lives, and allowing us to experience this world as if we were part of it. The crime drama aspect took a back seat and served more as a contrast than anything else. A worthy view for audiences of any kind.
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7/10
Ford goes Amish
HelloTexas1118 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
'Witness' was Harrison Ford's first starring mainstream hit drama, after the Star Wars trilogy, two Indiana Jones flicks, and of course 'Blade Runner.' It showed he could carry a conventional story, in this case a cop thriller in an unusual setting, outside the sci-fi/action genres and launched a movie career that by some accounts is the most successful ever. Samuel Lapp (Lucas Haas), a young Amish boy, is on a rare trip to the big city (Philadelphia) with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis). There he is the sole witness to a brutal murder and both he and Rachel are detained by police officer John Book (Ford) for questioning. This leads Book to uncover massive corruption in the police department and he himself is almost killed for discovering it, which leads the three of them back to the Amish community where Book hides out while recovering from his gunshot wound and trying to figure out what to do next. Beyond the inspired novelty of having a crime thriller largely set among the Pennsylvania Amish, 'Witness' is memorable for several noteworthy performances. Lucas Haas, like Heather O'Rourke in 'Poltergeist', is one of those child actors who is almost too endearing for words, not only angel-faced but a natural and believable performer. As Rachel, Kelly McGillis has one of her best roles and gives it a multi-layered interpretation. One can sense just below the surface a resentment in her at her lot in life as an Amish woman. Rachel dutifully goes through the motions required by her position but it is obvious she is forever wondering what it would be like to live in the outside world. Or, in Book's case, to bring him in to live in hers. And Harrison Ford gives another of those performances where you wonder where the actor ends and the character begins. Book and Rachel build up a subtle rapport, where thoughts and feelings are simply understood rather than openly expressed. They even manage a low-key teasing kind of back-and-forth, not easy when they are under the constant scrutiny of the town elders and in fact, just about all of the other Amish. 'Witness' provides a glimpse into Amish society that seems genuine and well-detailed. They are portrayed as industrious, self-sacrificing, extreme pacifists who live apart from the outside world, the world of the 'English,' as they call everyone else, regardless of background. Along with these admirable qualities, it is also suggested that they can be small-minded, gossipy, and somewhat smug and defensive about their beliefs and way of life. When one considers the cloistered, confined life they lead, this shouldn't be surprising; one might compare the Amish village to any small American town where everyone knows everyone else and people are forever talking behind each other's back. An interesting subplot in all this is how the Amish's pacifism comes into play when faced with violence. It is obviously a deeply-held belief that some will find admirable and others unfathomable. At one point, Samuel's grandfather attempts to explain to him why they feel the way they do, using Book's gun as a reference, since it epitomizes the evil of taking another's life. The grandfather asks Samuel if he would kill anyone, and the boy responds, "I would only kill the bad man." Then the old man asks how Samuel can know who is bad and who isn't. The boy responds, "I can see what they do. I have seen it." So the question that hangs in the air is, does Samuel become corrupted from what he's seen, or has he simply been exposed to the real world and become better able to deal with it, even at his young age? It is a question that 'Witness' doesn't attempt to resolve, and in this case, the ambiguity adds depth to a very thoughtful and satisfying movie.
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