After the funeral of his father, Samuel Lapp (Lukas Haas), a young Amish boy travelling with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) is witness to a murder in a Philadelphia train station. When Detective Captain John Book (Harrison Ford) investigates, he tries to get Samuel to identify the man. When he does, and identifies Head of Narcotics, Det. Lt James McFee (Danny Glover), Book confides in his boss Chief Paul Schaeffer (Josef Sommer). But it soon becomes clear that McFee is after Book and the boy, and Book ends up somewhere where he thinks McFee will never look - in the secluded Amish community.
Review by Louise Keller:
My favourite Peter Weir film, Witness is something special and to simply call it a thriller sells it short. It's a character based drama, a fish-out-of-water story, a story about good versus evil and a beguiling romance between a city cop and a conservative Amish widow. Three years after Blade Runner, Harrison Ford is at his best, while Kelly McGillis in her second film role, exudes a Grace Kelly-like serenity. It's also Viggo Mortensen's film debut and is Oscar-winning cinematographer John Seale's first American film, in which he perfectly captures the ambiance and ethereal beauty of the landscape.
Samuel, a nine year old Amish boy (Lukas Haas) with saucer eyes, presses his face up against the glass of the train window, watching all the new things in his life. He is curious about everything - looking at the water fountain at the train station, the strangers around him and foreboding statues that loom ominously above him. We are looking at the world through his innocent eyes, so when he witnesses the violent murder in the washroom, we, like Samuel, are shocked, every detail imprinted on our minds.
The contrast between the tranquil world of the Amish community and the brutality is beautifully described and as Ford's John Book finds himself out of his comfort zone, the full effect of the film's charms begin. Most memorable is the key courtship scene between John and McGillis' Rachel when they dance in the barn while he sings along to the car radio playing 'What A Wonderful World'. The crux of the film deals with the changing relationship between the two.
Tension builds slowly before the inevitable happens and Danny Glover's callous dirty cop finds his way into Amish territory. It's a thrilling conclusion to Weir's beautiful film that marries the two worlds so convincingly. It's a classic.
Published December 6, 2007
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WITNESS: DVD (M15+)
CAST: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Danny Glover, Brent Jennings, Patti LuPone
PRODUCER: Edward S. Feldman
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
SCRIPT: Earl W. Wallace, William Kelley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Seale
EDITOR: Thom Noble
MUSIC: Maurice Jarre
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stan Jolley
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with Peter Weir; trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: 2007