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.
(Bumped the rating up from a 4 to a 4.5.)
Ford is great and McGillis is fine, but the 'forbidden love' idea is a stretch with these characters, particularly McGillis' Amish character.
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.