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Witness (1985)

Film review: Witness (1985), directed by Peter Weir

This movie was watched simply on the basis that it was directed by Peter Weir, and I wanted to see more of his work. In Witness, we follow the newly widowed Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and her 8-year-old son Samuel (Lukas Haas) who travel by train from their Amish home to the outside world, to see Rachel’s sister in Baltimore. When the train is delayed by three hours in Philadelphia, Samuel goes to the men’s room … and witnesses a brutal murder of a police officer.

Cue John Book (Harrison Ford), who interviews mother and son, and then tries to protect them, seeing as how the child is now a murder witness. However, things don’t exactly go to plan. As it turns out, the man Samuel saw in the rest room (Danny Glover) is a police officer, meaning he’s a bent cop … and when Book tells this theory to his superior (Josef Sommer), they end up running for their lives. Back to Amish country.

Shout out: Viggo Mortensen as a young Amish man. Who says little, if he speaks at all.

All I know about the Amish is that they’re a pretty big group of people who shun “fancy things like electricity” (yeah, basically, all I know about the Amish, I learned from Weird Al) and live like it was a few hundred years ago. I didn’t know they speak German a lot, but then, I’ve never done any research either – I’m sure it’ll come up straight away on Wikipedia. So, to see how they live and how their society works is fascinating. Not to mention envious, at times. Things were so much simpler back in those days. No, not easier, simpler. Let’s face it, isn’t that part of the appeal of 19th century literature?

How Amish ways and modern ways can clash, we see plenty of examples of, but it’s nice to see that Book actually tries to adapt to the new lifestyle, instead of just doing his own thing.

I’m a bit uncertain about the ending, because I expected one (obvious) thing, but I don’t think that’s how it actually ended. Unless I misunderstood something somewhere.

While the script had me hooked and I really enjoyed seeing it acted out on screen, the music score was distracting at times. The composer is Maurice Jarre (father of Jean Michel), who also worked with Weir on Dead Poets Society (mentioned twice in as many weeks now – it’s a SIGN!). While the music is emotive, it’s sometimes too invasive as well. But there you go. At least it’s a really good film, very touching. The silo bit aside, because that was a bit of a nightmare. Not a great way to go, put it that way.

4.2 out of 5 bird houses.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

7 thoughts on “Witness (1985)

  1. aaaaaaaaaawh. one of my all-time favourite films.. and one of the first I watched in English. hasn’t lost anything over the years.. must dig out the DVD tonight.. or tomorrow 😉
    BIG LOL at Weird Al.. heard the song long after I had watched the film and now I have to think of the filme whenever I hear the song.. which is quite frequently.. one of my favourite Weird Al songs… always makes me laugh out loud.
    thanks very much for the post, and the memories.. and the reminder to re-watch and re-listen 😀

  2. I really need to watch this, haven’t seen it in YEARS…all I remember was thinking that Harrison Ford was particularly hot in it. So yeah, it’s been a while. 😉

  3. Probably in my top ten movies of all time. And I really disagree about the score. The music during the barn-raising scene is just plain epic. Once you set aside the extremely improbable plot — for me, a near perfect film.

  4. One of my absolute favorite movies. The dancing in the barn scene (“Don’t Know Much about History”) is SO perfect. I liked how it ended – the opposite outcome would have been unrealistic. What do you think you misunderstood?

  5. Teena: Weird Al is always good, and I tend to find the same about Peter Weir films. Good combo, really! 😀

    Ruth/Joanna: Aww, Harrison Ford. Always a treat!

    Servetus: It worked very well in the barn-raising scene, I agree. At other times, I found it distracting. Knowing so little of the Amish, the improbability of the plot really didn’t spring to mind! 😀

  6. Nan: I was trying to make it relatively spoiler-free, but as I understood it, they went their separate ways in the end. The predictable outcome would’ve been for them to hook up and live happily ever after, of course. But that’s not how it ended, right? He left. I took the nod to the blonde guy as a “you look after her now, Mr. Amish man, live long and prosper” kinda thing.

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