Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes,
Director: Peter Weir
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2005
not our way.”
Witness still stands as one of the most memorable films from the 1980s for
various reasons. For Australian filmmaker Peter Weir, the film, his first
American film production, gave him perfect exposure to the American film market.
For Harrison Ford, who at that point had achieved the level of superstar, the
film presented a strong revelation. Lastly, the film’s strongest power is its
blending of two very different movies into one.
The film opens with
a most beautiful, and lyrical, series of scenes involving the citizens of a
quiet Amish community in Pennsylvania. The cinematography by John Seale fully
deserves the Oscar nomination it was rewarded with in capturing the striking
beauty of the Amish countryside. The townsfolk prepare to send young Samuel Lapp
(Lukas Haas) along with mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) for a safe train ride to
Then something most
unexpected happens which takes the movie in a whole new direction. At the train
station, Samuel witnesses the brutal slaying of an off duty cop from a bathroom
stall. The young boy’s narrow escape from death remains one of the biggest
close calls ever done in a movie.
cop John Book (Ford), who confronts young Samuel and attempts to gather
information based on what he saw as the murder took place. The only information
he can deliver is the description of two men, one black and one white. After
gathering several facts, including the identity of one of the killers, it soon
becomes clear that the murder was committed by cops in Book’s own precinct.
When the same men
come after Book and the mother and son, the cop makes a bold move by escorting
the two back to the Amish country, all the while tending to a gun shot wound.
Just as he places the two in safe haven, Book passes out in the car, and the
community takes him in to nurse him and see that he recovers. Before long, Book
soon learns of the level of corruption in his own department, and with no one
left to trust, he hides out among the Amish, knowing good and well that the
killers will soon come looking for him.
screenplay by William Kelly, Earl Wallace and Pamela Wallace is nothing short of
pure genius in terms of character and storytelling. The portrait of two very
different worlds, the harsh city life where Ford’s cop character comes from
and the beauty and wonder of the Amish community that he becomes attached to,
even in the matter of being forced to in order to protect a witness, is so well
crafted. This is one story that unfolds at a most unique level. The suspenseful
standoff near the end of the film, between Book and the corrupt cops on the
Amish farm, remains a most incredible sequence, and one that seems to come out
If anything, Witness
will stand as a huge turning point for Harrison Ford. Not only did the film
garner him his first and only Oscar nomination to date for Best Actor, but it
demonstrated that he could be just as strong in different material, other than
the adventurous roles he was known for at the time. He pours his heart and soul
into the role of John Book. He and director Weir must have struck the right
note, since Ford’s next project would be Weir’s next film, The
Mosquito Coast, which was another incredible departure for the actor.
For both Ford and
Weir, Witness will always stand as a
pure accomplishment for both. It delivers what may still be Harrison Ford’s
best screen performance to date, and is yet another high mark on the long list
of great films from Peter Weir. It’s a true gem that’s always worth
BONUS TRIVIA: Look
for a very young Viggo Mortensen, making his film debut, in a supporting role as
a young Amish lad.
on DVD once before, this is my first time seeing the movie in the format. I must
say that I was more than impressed with Paramount’s grand handling of the
anamorphic picture. The image quality is most outstanding, particularly in the
Amish countryside which illume with sheer cinematic beauty, boasting images to
remember. Several darker toned shots don’t fare as successful, but they’re
not even a big distraction.
For an 80s piece, Witness
gets a most satisfying level of remastered sound. The 5.1 mix is satisfactory as
far as dialogue delivery, numerous action scenes, and especially Maurice
Jarr’s poetic score to the film.
The heart of this
Special Collector’s Edition release is the intriguing and very informative 5
part documentary titled “Between Two Worlds”, a retrospective piece that
covers angles from origins all the way up to post production. Also included is a
deleted scene, a theatrical trailer and TV spots for the film.