Critic Consensus: A wonderfully entertaining thriller within an unusual setting, with Harrison Ford delivering a surprisingly emotive and sympathetic performance.
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as John Book
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Critic Reviews for Witness
Weir, an Australian filming in this country for the first time, has succumbed to blandness.
Witness warms up as the attraction builds between Ford, McGillis and Haas -- all performing excellently through this portion.
Playing John Book allowed viewers the opportunity to see Ford the actor instead of Ford the action/adventure icon. It is one of the few times he has been given the opportunity to play in a straight drama.
Powerful, assured, full of beautiful imagery and thankfully devoid of easy moralising, it also offers a performance of surprising skill and sensitivity from Ford.
Audience Reviews for Witness
I am sure that it impressed when it was released, however today Witness feels very dated, slow, and a bit underwhelming. Nonetheless, one can appreciate the film for its unique storyline, even if the quality of the film doesn't do it justice. I was expecting more. Harrison Ford does impress, as he always does, but no real surprises here.
While the script eventually steamrolls over the finer details of a very different culture, "Witness" is nonetheless a very unique 80s thriller that succeeds thanks to Harrison Ford's charming performance and some resonant thematic moments about how people deal with the similarities and differences between cultures.
While it isn't wrong to call this 1985 Peter Weir drama a romantic thriller, it should be noted that less emphasis should be put on the thriller side of things, as it's only a thriller at t he beginning and end, with the bulk of the film being a romantic drama about culture clash and forbidden love.
A young Amish boy named Samuel witnesses a brutal murder in a bus station bathroom. Hardened Philadelphia police detective John Book is assigned to investigate. When he realizes the murder is part of a larger conspiracy involving people in his own department, Book gets wounded and flees to Amish country with Samuel and his recently widowed mother Rachel.
While recuperating, Book slowly begins to assimilate to the more plain and simple way of life his hosts live, and along the way finds himself falling in love with Rachel, despite the complications and consequences of such a forbidden situation.
This is one of the few films to really seriously focus on the Amish, and it's great. Yeah, the film isn't a perfect representation of their culture, but it is fairly accurate, but, more importantly, fairly respectful and sensible with how it treats things. It provides nice insight, and also gives a good look at how the Amish stick out as much in John's world as he does in theirs.
The film isn't fast paced, but that's actually not a problem. It takes it's time to do some world building, and develop the story and characters. Thankfully this is all interesting subject matter, too. There's romance, as I mentioned, but it's handled in a not very Hollywood way, which is a breath of fresh air. The film is quite serious, but it does have a few needed moments of levity here and there.
Harrison Ford is great here. This marked a change for him as he had, until this point, primarily spent his time either in sci-fi action romps, or as Indiana Jones. Here he is simply in a straight drama, and he delivers a quietly affecting performance. Lukas Haas is also good as the young Samuel, but the real jewel is Kelly McGillis as Rachel. She's a solemn, traditional woman, but her curiosity gets the best of her the more she spends time around the "Englishman". It's also cool seeing Viggo Mottensen in his brief big screen debut.
Featuring strong writing and direction, an interesting and fitting score from Maurice Jarre that's sometimes really otherworldly, and some good cinematography, this is a wonderful movie with a great story that I highly recommend.
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