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Witness

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Kelly McGillis must have had a hard time making this movie, as she was quite a heavy smoker when this film was made. You can hear it in her voice and throat, particularly when she laughs. Interesting, given the role she plays, and evidence that she can be a great actress, transforming from a very modern woman, and she is, very modern, apparently, to a conservative Christian. The Amish (old-order) are very conservative even amongst plain-folk (Amish & Mennonites). The Amish split away from the Mennonites long ago when some within the old-order Mennonite community were becoming too liberal for the soon-to-be Amish. Jakob Aman was the fellow who led them away from Menno Simons followers. This indicates the degree to which the Amish in this film are supposed to be conservative.

-Thanks to Brad

More Trivia from Witness
Too many times is the 80's seen as just a shallow, popcorn era. Witness is one of the examples that prove that the 80's was just as much an era of beautifully crafted, thoughtful movies as any other.

Harrison Ford, in a daring break from his previous diet of blockbusters, stars as John Book, a hardened but decent and honest Philadelphia detective. A young Amish boy called Samuel, stunningly played by Lukas Haas in his debut, is the only witness to the murder of a Philly undercover detective at a train station and Ford is the investigating officer.

This is Samuel's first visit to the city, away from the familiar surroundings of the Amish community --and what an eventful one it proves to be. Australian Director Peter Weir does a fantastic job of portraying things from the boy's point of view and doesn't miss a trick in showing us just how strange and unfamilar the city is to Samuel and his mother.

Book's hardened street cop ways are fascinating to Samuel and very upsetting to his mother, admirably played by Kelly McGillis. His investigative methods and Samuel's inevitable exposure to things that threaten his innocence are brilliantly shown in such a way that takes you inside their characters and shows you the world through their untainted eyes.

As the plot thickens however, Book is forced to abandon the city and having been badly wounded, return the boy and his mother to the safety (and anonymity) of their Amish Community --where he promptly collapses.

As he recuperates, it gives us the chance for a reversal of the displacement -- It's now Book's turn to be in a world thats alien to him and we now see much of it through his eyes.

So brilliantly are these characters respective displacements handled that I'm sure that this movie is probably used in film schools in the teaching of bias. Weir is able to show us each world in a way that the 'outsider' sees it --switching and role reversing midway without missing a beat.

He also deals with the material in a very sensitive and even handed way. The Amish are portrayed honestly and sincerely [for pretty much the first time on film]and their strength simply shines through. Under less skilled direction, this film could easily have gone very badly wong, leaving the Amish looking foolish and out-of-touch.

A good chunk of the credit for the overall package must also go to cinematographer John Seale for his lush vistas and achieving the rare trick of beautiful pictures without resorting to 'glossy' and over saturated colour. Also composer Maurice Jarre's haunting and quite surreal music helps to ease us into the different worlds without too much of a jolt.

As you will see from the DVD section of the page, Paramount have decided to release this excellent movie on DVD in both the USA and Europe --complete with a widescreen enhanced picture and remixed Dolby digital 5.1 sound. The disc also contains a trailer and interview with Weir.

Verdict?

A great and unusual story crafted by a superb director working with an equally excellent cast and crew. The film has an unusually slow pace as Weir is in no hurry and gives us time to adjust to the different worlds, but like all great directors, the film is just as spellbinding as any fast paced movie.

About as 'high-brow' as major studio movies get, but skillfully made to be very enjoyable for everyone but the most hardened "adrenaline junkies".

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Fantastic Script, Acting, Directing and Cinematography.

Weaknesses? Might bore those who need a very fast paced movie.

Our rating: 9.5 out of 10


Review Written by Nick:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Nick
Witness