WITNESS (1985)

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Christopher

I remember watching this when I was young. From what I remember my parents remembered really liking it so we rented it and must of watched it as a family. I really enjoy this movie and I find all the Amish aspects very interesting. However, I have always found this movie very slow and kind of boring.

I can’t really pinpoint why I feel this way in a bad way and not a good way but it just does not hold my interest all the way throughout. I definitely enjoyed it more than I did when I was a kid. I found it easier to be interested in the story but the way its shot is still what gets me. It reminds me of those old Paula Deen cooking shows. They were always shot so hazy and that drives me crazy. Witness is shot in a similar manner to me; it’s very hazy.

I still like this movie though and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. It’s pretty interesting.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

Witness was great. It was a movie that I thought I had kinda seen, kinda not seen, mostly because it was a VHS that we owned but I wasn’t allowed to watch. After watching it now, I think it’s safe to say that I never really did see this movie before.

I really loved that Witness was quiet and a little slow moving but was still a good action-y movie. It follows Rachel (Kelly McGillis), a newly-widowed Amish woman and her young son, Samuel (Lukas Haas) who are really just trying to take a train to visit Rachel’s sister. Now, we somehow managed to watch two Lukas Haas movies back-to-back with Witness and Material Girls, which is sort of amazing since they’re on complete opposite ends of the good movie spectrum. And while Lukas Haas looks fine in Material Girls, he was so fucking cute in Witness.

He's just like this adorable little mini person in his cute Amish suit!
He’s just like this adorable little mini person in his cute Amish suit!

Anyway, while at this crowded train station, Samuel goes into the men’s bathroom. A man smiles at him as he walks in and Samuel locks himself in a stall. He hears some scuffling so he looks through the crack of the bathroom door . . . to see fucking Danny Glover slitting the throat of the man who smiled at Samuel. Shiiiiiiiiiit! That was the first sign to me that I hadn’t really seen this movie. I knew the kid witnessed a murder. But like, this murder was fairly gruesome. They practically cut the guy’s head off! And then to make everything super scary, Danny Glover (playing someone named McFee) suspects someone else is in the bathroom, so he goes through all the stalls until Samuel ducks under another stall at the last minute. It’s really an incredibly stressful scene and Samuel looking really cute and innocent and scared just adds to it.

So Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) and his partner, Carter, get assigned to the case and we find out that the murdered man was actually a cop. John brings Samuel into the police station the next day to look over mugshots and lineups, but Samuel doesn’t see the killer. While John is on the phone, Samuel starts walking around the office and stops at a trophy case where there’s a picture of McFee getting an award. This scene is great because when Samuel sees McFee’s picture, it’s like he’s seen a ghost. He looks at John across the room and John can immediately tell that something’s up. The scene is in slow motion as both Samuel and John silently realize that that is the killer and he’s a cop. John goes to Chief Schaeffer, his boss, to tell him about McFee and Schaeffer tells him to keep everything quiet until they figure it out. Almost immediately after, McFee shoots John in a parking garage, which makes John realize that Schaeffer is in on it, too. He calls Carter to get him to get the file on the murder and drives Rachel and Samuel back to their community but passes out from his gunshot wound.

Rachel is scared to bring John to a hospital because that could easily lead McFee and Schaeffer back to her and Samuel, so the elders agree to let John stay while Rachel helps nurse him back to health. They both start to fall for each other a little bit while she takes care of him, which makes a ton of sense considering both of their characters are beautiful, nice, and single. Rachel’s neighbor, Daniel (Alexander Godunov) is also beautiful, nice, and single, and likes Rachel, which sort of puts a spotlight on Rachel and John’s possible relationship. The Amish seem split on John; everyone knows (or seems to know) why he’s there and that it’s essentially for their own protection (and especially Samuel’s), but they’re also hesitant about him being there and what may be going on with he and Rachel. At one point, John accidentally catches Rachel bathing, though neither of them really leave once they both realize he’s watching. Rachel actually turns to him, topless, obviously ready for something, but instead he leaves and later tells her that if they had slept together (which was definitely about to happen) it would mean he would have to stay or she would have to go.

John and some of the men go into town so John can use a phone, when John is told that Carter was murdered. A bunch of asshole-y tourists start messing with the Amish, taking their picture and yelling at them for not being in the military. The Amish don’t do anything because they appear to have pretty strict rules about things like fighting in public, but luckily John is just dressed as an Amish man, so he has no problem kicking their asses. But doing that causes the news of an Amish man starting a fight to spread back to the Philadelphia police, who now know where John, Rachel, and Samuel are. Once John and Rachel both realize that John has to leave because of the publicity the fight brought him, neither of them have any trouble making out like crazy in a cornfield and, we can assume, having crazy awesome sex. The next day Schaeffer, McFee, and Fergie (who was the other guy that killed the cop along with McFee) show up at Rachel’s farm. John kills Fergie by suffocating him in a corn silo (which is both badass and super scary) and then uses Fergie’s shotgun to kill McFee. Before Schaeffer can kill John or anyone else, though, Samuel sounds an alarm bell that causes all the Amish in the community to come over. This essentially saves John as Schaeffer can’t kill John in front of a ton of witnesses, so he gets arrested instead.

I can’t help but wonder how this whole thing must have affected Samuel’s view of law enforcement. Because the world of law enforcement in Witness is a super scary one where anyone might be a killer and no one is safe. Obviously John is a good cop example, but he’s pretty much it. I just imagine that that would seem so terrifying to a young kid. But anyway, I was expecting Witness to be really fast and full of action but I’m glad it wasn’t like that. The movie had a sort of Terrence Malick feel to me, in a good way. And that makes sense, in it’s own way, that a movie that deals so much with the Amish would be more subtle and quiet. I also really loved how delicate John’s relationships with Rachel and Samuel were. He obviously respected them both and wanted to help them while also not doing anything that they would be against. It was just sort of sweet, like he genuinely cared about what happened to them (and not just because Rachel is hot). I really enjoyed this movie and everyone looked great . . . bummer that Danny Glover had to play a crazy killer, though. But at least no one was KGB!

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One thought on “WITNESS (1985)

  1. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about this movie for most of my life, because I think it gets more attention and adoration than its much better Weir/Ford cousin The Mosquito Coast — one of the contenders for my favorite movie ever. I watched this again a few months ago since Netflix got it, and appreciated it a lot more. I love the slowness, the quietness of it, and it has Weir’s artistic style all over it, but it’s still a more mainstream romantic-y thriller that seems palatable to the masses, whereas The Mosquito Coast is far more deeply moving and thoughtful examination of “the decadence of obsolescence” and other cultural lunacies that kill our world. But also it’s a very human story. As Ford himself liked to think of it — and I definitely agree — it’s a father and son story.

    Well, I’m getting way off track on a different movie. Suffice to say, I think Witness is worthy of a lot of its praise but gets more than it deserves. A particularly fine take a romance/thriller, but it’s still a romance/thriller.

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