Rated “R” for Violence, Nudity, and Profanity
Written By: Peter Weir
Directed By: William Kelley and Pamela Wallace
Staring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Danny Glover, Lucas Haas, Josef Somer, Jan Rubes, Alexander Gundonov, and Viggo Mortensen
Lady, you take my picture with that thing and I’m gonna rip your brassiere off… and strangle you with it! You got that? -John Book
One of the most profound aspects of Witness is it’s haunting score by Maurice Jarre and delicate cinematography by John Seale. Both were nominated for Oscars and played just as an important role as our actors. Together the two tell the story with very little dialogue necessary from the actors, which is an amazing reflection of the Amish community who says nothing unless they need to.
A young Amish boy and his mother ride a train threw the big city on their way to visit family. There is a delay on the train exchange and they must wait during hours that are very late. With a deserted station Samuel’s mother feels comfortable allowing him to use the restroom alone. There is only one man in there while Samuel is doing his business. Then two more enter and slaughter the man right in front of the youth’s eyes. Samuel and his mother are brought into the police station and Samuel goes over lists to identify the man who had killed an undercover cop. Samuel finds a picture of the man, but it’s not who anyone would have imagined. He is a highly decorated police officer and when Captain John Cook goes to his superior and no one else to give this information, he finds his own life in peril as a murder attempt has been made on him. Badly wounded, he erases the mother and sons paper trail and drives them back to Amish country where he hopes they will not be found. His injury is too surmountable to drive back to the city, and he finds himself in the care of the Amish. Together they must all help each other in order to survive.
The directer, Peter Weir, let the simplicity of the visuals and the character’s in the Amish world come across with long shots of landscapes and the Amish community. A very poignant scene in the beginning depicts the clash of two different worlds as the Amish buggy takes Karen and Samuel to the train station on a road with a line of trucks and other vehicles behind it. The attention to these small details really sets the tone for the later, more colorful scenes when John Book finds himself drastically outside his own element in the peaceful and simple world of the Amish.
Ultimately, the two main character’s learn a lot from each other, but more from Books end then the other way around. While the Amish do not accept the Police Officers way of life, it is his way that soon saves them from the “bad men”. In the end, there is a common exchange of understanding for each other, but both realize neither can live in each other’s world. It has a macabre sentimentality about it that makes the bittersweet ending very authentic and true to each character’s heart.
Harrison Ford was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars for his interpretation of Dec. John Books. His charisma exists just as brilliantly as it does in many of his other roles, but the toned down much more subtle way of displaying his character’s emotions, conflict, and desire to do good was perceived so honestly by Ford that John Book really came alive. The small curl of a smile out of the corner of his mouth, that shows a distinct discomfort yet amusement is a Ford trademark, yet as Book it came across almost bashful. This was one of his greatest roles ever. One of his counterparts played by Lucas Haas was Samuel, the young bright eyed, innocent faced boy who said very little but described very much with his facial expressions of the shock and curiosity of the two worlds closing in on him. His purity and innocence really propelled the story and encourages the viewer to see things from a different perspective.
Witness is a drama that happens to have a few action scenes in it. Though the peril of the situation is what pushes the movie forward, it mostly evolves from the character’s of two different worlds learning from each other. This film really gives the viewer an opportunity to be entertained by action, a love story, and understanding how tolerance for people that see life differently can be built. Though the film is a very hard “R” rating it is a movie that I would recommend, and perhaps even require, and fan of cinema to sit down and watch on a quiet afternoon alone to let every subtle aspect of this film sink in. Witness is brilliant film making.