Policeman goes into hiding in Amish country to protect Amish boy, who was the sole witness of a murder, until the trial. Beautifully written and directed; Ford has never been better. Superb thriller invites comparison with Hitchcock. Screenplay and Film Editing won Oscars.
As the opening images of an Amish community gathering to mourn the loss of a member of their own rolls across the screen, a few of the last things you expect to follow are suspense and romance. However that is exactly what follows in this highly original take on a cop thriller meets love story. However, with the subtle originality and the intensity of the acting, the finale just wasn't quite there in Peter Weir's "Witness" (1985).
As the widow, Rachel (Kelly McGillis), and her son, Samuel (Lukas Haas), travel to Philadelphia, Samuel becomes the witness to a heinous crime. Police officer, John Book (Harrison Ford), takes them under his protection, but soon finds himself fleeing along with them as corruption surfaces and a dangerous situation falls upon them. Before long he's thrown into the new and peculiar world of Rachel and Samuel's Amish community, and forced to conform to their way of life or risk being discovered.
As Book develops from a hardened cop who believes he is the best, and incapable of love, into someone completely different. He turns into someone who fits in with the Amish community, but never loses the sense of who he was before. Rachel, begins the movie as a strong and proud Amish mother who follows the cues of her elders, however as the film develops, so does she, as she stands up to those she took cues from and speaks her mind.
The insight that Ford gives us into John Book's personality through his actions make his character all the more complex. Ford hints at Book's dominance by drinking milk out of his sister's milk carton and then shoving it in her hand as he rushes out the door, or in the way his voice booms and all else goes silent. However, Ford also plays up Book's childlike side as he sings along to a favorite song, and dances awkwardly, all along making Book's character that much more complex.
Not only does Ford add complexity to Book, but he also expresses emotion in a way that encompasses his whole body. Ford expresses fear in a way that it is not only shown on his face, but also in his eyes, and in his shaking and sweating. The irritation that he feels for being in the Amish community is shown not by sarcasm alone, but in how stiffly and slowly he walks in Amish clothing. And we see that he is in love before he does, by the longing in his eyes with each lengthy glance. The complexity of Book's character, along with his and Rachel's character development, is how they even become capable of love.
At first glance, the boy-meets-girl love story of the film seems fairly typical and unoriginal. Looking closer at the circumstances in which they fall in love and their character development brings forth the originality of this film. The simple acts that cause them to fall in love from building a barn to listening to music, is what brings this love story its originality.
All in all, this unique take on a suspenseful romance deserves its place as an original film. However, the ending left me wondering what was next for the characters, and a little disappointed that it didn't end with bang, or a romantic grand gesture. The satisfaction you feel at the end of a film just wasn't there, only questions.