Witness - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Witness Reviews

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February 4, 2018
In 1984, an Amish community attends the funeral of Jacob Lapp, who leaves behind his wife Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and eight-year-old son Samuel (Lukas Haas). Later, Rachel and Samuel travel by train to visit Rachel's sister, which takes them into Philadelphia. While waiting for a connecting train, Samuel goes into the men's room and witnesses two men attack and murder a third, narrowly escaping detection as he hides in the stalls. Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) is assigned to the case, and he and his partner, Sergeant Elton Carter (Brent Jennings), question Samuel. It turns out the victim was an undercover police officer. Samuel is unable to identify the lone perpetrator whose face he saw from mug shots or a lineup. However, at the police station, Samuel sees a newspaper clipping in which narcotics officer James McFee (Danny Glover) is honored for his exemplary service, and points him out to John. John remembers that McFee was previously responsible for a seizure of chemicals used to make amphetamines, but the evidence had disappeared. John confides his suspicions to Chief Paul Schaeffer (Josef Sommer), who advises John to keep the case secret so they can work out how to move forward. But John is later ambushed in a parking garage and badly wounded by McFee. Since only Schaeffer knew of John's suspicions, John realizes Schaeffer is also corrupt and tipped off McFee. John calls Carter and orders him to remove the Lapp file from the records. He then hides his car and uses his sister's car to return Rachel and Samuel to Lancaster County. While attempting to return to the city, John passes out in the vehicle in front of their farm. Rachel argues that taking John to a hospital would allow the corrupt police officers to find him while putting Samuel in danger. Her father-in-law Eli (Jan Rube) reluctantly agrees to shelter him, despite his distrust for the outsider. John slowly recovers in their care, and begins to develop feelings for Rachel, who is likewise drawn to him. The Lapps' neighbor Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Godunov) had hoped to court her, and this becomes a cause of friction. John's relationship with the Amish community grows as they learn he is skilled at carpentry. He is invited to participate in a barn raising for a newly married couple and gains Hochleitner's respect. However, the attraction between John and Rachel is evident and clearly concerns Eli and others. That night, John comes upon Rachel as she bathes, and she stands half-naked before him, but he walks away. John goes into town with Eli to use a payphone, and learns that Carter has been killed. He deduces that it was Schaeffer and McFee, who are intensifying their efforts to find him and are joined by a third corrupt officer, Ferguson. In town, Hochleitner is harassed by locals. Breaking with the Amish tradition of nonviolence, John retaliates. The fight is reported to the local police, who inform Schaeffer. The next day, the corrupt officers arrive at the Lapp farm and search for John and Samuel, taking Rachel and Eli hostage...

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It was also nominated for seven BAFTA Awards, winning one for Maurice Jarre's score, and was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards. William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay and the 1986 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Witness was generally well received by critics and earned eight Academy Award nominations (including Weir's first and Ford's sole nomination to date). Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film four out of four stars, calling it "first of all, an electrifying and poignant love story. Then it is a movie about the choices we make in life and the choices that other people make for us. Only then is it a thriller-one that Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to make." He concluded, "We have lately been getting so many pallid, bloodless little movies-mostly recycled teenage exploitation films made by ambitious young stylists without a thought in their heads-that Witness arrives like a fresh new day. It is a movie about adults, whose lives have dignity and whose choices matter to them. And it is also one hell of a thriller." Vincent Canby of the New York Times said of the film, "It's not really awful, but it's not much fun. It's pretty to look at and it contains a number of good performances, but there is something exhausting about its neat balancing of opposing manners and values ... One might be made to care about all this if the direction by the talented Australian film maker, Peter Weir ... were less perfunctory and if the screenplay ... did not seem so strangely familiar. One follows Witness as if touring one's old hometown, guided by an outsider who refuses to believe that one knows the territory better than he does. There's not a character, an event or a plot twist that one hasn't anticipated long before its arrival, which gives one the feeling of waiting around for people who are always late." Variety said the film was "at times a gentle, affecting story of star-crossed lovers limited within the fascinating Amish community. Too often, however, this fragile romance is crushed by a thoroughly absurd shoot-em-up, like ketchup poured over a delicate Pennsylvania Dutch dinner." Time Out New York observed, "Powerful, assured, full of beautiful imagery and thankfully devoid of easy moralising, it also offers a performance of surprising skill and sensitivity from Ford."
Halliwell's Film Guide described the film as "one of those lucky movies which works out well on all counts and shows that there are still craftsmen lurking in Hollywood." Radio Times called the film "partly a love story and partly a thriller, but mainly a study of cultural collision - it's as if the world of Dirty Harry had suddenly stumbled into a canvas by Brueghel." It added, "[I]t's Weir's delicacy of touch that impresses the most. He ably juggles the various elements of the story and makes the violence seem even more shocking when it's played out on the fields of Amish denial." The film was screened out of competition at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.

"Witness" is a classic 80s thriller with a plot that is maybe not that unique, but when the settings shift into the Amish community the film becomes something a bit unique based on cultural collisions and the results of that. The insight into the Amish community is of course intriguing and adds so many layers to the film with conflicting values of respective worlds. Harrison Ford gives us a fine performance as Book, showing his emotional range, particularly his struggle within to suppress his attraction to Rachel and the fact that they can´t make it work no matter what. The tension is there and you can almost touch it. The structure, cinematography and direction from Peter Weir are all fine. I do like that Weir don´t hold back on the violence as it makes the film feel authentic and real. I reckon "Witness" will always be seen as one of the better thrillers of the 80s.

Trivia: This film was released in early 1985. It was the number two film at the box-office behind the enormous hit Beverly Hills Cop (1984). Even though this film made money, a Paramount executive said that if they had known "Cop" was going to be such a big hit, they would not have released this film so soon after it.
January 30, 2018
This film has grown on Me. it's a good solid 80s film with a great cast and a reasonable story line.
½ January 29, 2018
Witness has this peaceful, exhilarating yet simultaneously intense and thrilling vibe about it which sets it apart from other thrillers, even though it's 'murder-witness' story isn't anything new. The execution of said story is what really counts here though, as director Peter Weir has protagonist John Book face culture shock by hiding out in Amish country. Ford gives one of the best performances of his career and the soundtrack is nothing short of majestic.

(Bumped the rating up from a 4 to a 4.5.)
December 8, 2017
Super intense thriller. Great atmosphere and music to the film. Loved this film.
September 24, 2017
Well-acted thriller with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis as leads. Huge part of it is about cultural differences which fits in perfect and makes the movie memorable.
½ September 14, 2017
Frankly, I was bored the whole way through. The pacing is fairly tepid, but more it's the sound editing and direction that lowers the bar.
Ford is great and McGillis is fine, but the 'forbidden love' idea is a stretch with these characters, particularly McGillis' Amish character.
August 10, 2017
Really entertaining story about a guy who has to hide out for a few weeks from dirty cops and is forced to do so at an Amish town. I'm a sucker for culture clash movies if they are done well and this movie is the best there is. The scene where Rachel dances in the barn to the music is so masterful. So amazingly directed by Peter Weir. One of my all time favorites.
½ March 29, 2017
Watching this for a second time long after my first viewing I have come to appreciate this film a whole lot more now that my mindset on films is a lot less narrow minded. With fantastic performances by all involved, solid direction by Peter Weir, a good script, incredible score and a solid enough plot this is one of the best fish out of water films.
March 6, 2017
Delicate and heartfelt. The writing and acting are on-point throughout.
½ January 8, 2017
What's with the music? The story is laughable but they have tried to add suspense with synthesisers. If this movie had been made in the last decade it would have a lot lower rating
½ December 9, 2016
Peter Weir, in his first Hollywood outing, refashions with nuanced finesse the conventional genre of a cop thriller into a heartwarming human drama set midst a cultural clash of violence and pacifism of the Amish community.
½ September 26, 2016
Está bien, no hay mucho que agregar.
La película en sí no es la gran cosa. Un niño amish es testigo de un asesinato y Harrison Ford es el detective que investiga el caso, una cosa lleva a la otra y el detective termina viviendo con los amish.
La idea de la película la encontré bien original y bien hecha, pero la historia en si fue la que no es tan atrapante, pero no deja de ser interesante y entretenida.
3,5/5.
½ September 19, 2016
Witness is one of those films that I am shocked I never watched before, because I was absolutely obsessed with Harrison Ford back in the day. It's a shame that I didn't watch it sooner because there's a lot in this film that I love, and it might have climbed to be a favorite if I had some nostalgia. The first and third acts of the film are the kind of stuff that I was hoping for out of this movie, and make it a delight to watch. I love the story of this Amish boy who knows nothing of modern society witnessing the darkest parts of it, and the cop who will stop at nothing to protect the boy and find out what happened. Then there's the third and final act where it kind of shifts back into that same story, and I get excited all over again. But there's also a second act between the great bookends, and every issue I have with the film comes in that second act. I could accept if it was just the story of a man from the big city learning to live the Amish lifestyle, because those moments were kind of humorous and touching. What didn't work for me was the dramatic shift into a star-crossed lovers tale. For quite awhile it felt like the entire plot had taken a strange detour, and I had no confidence that it would find its way back. The boy who was one of the central figures in the beginning becomes a non-entity, being utterly replaced by his mother until the end. I think, without the romance plot, Witness would be a favorite film of mine and I would rush out to buy a copy. But with that added to the story, I don't know when I'll watch it again.
September 10, 2016
Very much underrated and forgotten as far as Harrison Ford's filmography is concerned. A total recommend. McGillis is fantastic!
August 27, 2016
A drama that excels in the Amish Community, Witness is great with Harrison Ford breaking the mold on proving his acting worth
July 19, 2016
Show film to my daughters, they immediately make an Amish pinterest board.
½ July 16, 2016
Hiding out among the Amish & taking to their ways & beliefs. The violent vulgarities of big city life just can't compete.
Super Reviewer
½ June 21, 2016
Ford is very good but the movie is riddled with problems. The romance, complete with that awful "breast exposure" scene, is so unconvincing that it renders the rest of the movie dramatically inert.
June 7, 2016
Strong and enthralling work by Peter Weir who brought some mantle of mystique upon seeming at first sight as an ordinary script, but executed into a wonderful story combined suspense, love, and secular against spiritual.
June 5, 2016
It has a couple of really well-executed scenes, especially ones involving suspense, but overall it fits the bill of cliche 1980s movie with the rest of what it does. It's opening is too long, the kid is set up to be relevant early on only to be essentially discarded halfway through and the ending feels rushed and offers no real resolution. The plot basically happens out of the absurdity and unbelievability of its opening scenes. Entertaining, but certainly flawed.
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