Witness

Peter Weir, USA 1985, 112 mins

From the man subsequently who brought you Green Card and Mosquito Coast (also with Harrison Ford), Witness was the first Hollywood outing of Australian director Weir and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Based on a story by Kelly and Pamela Wallace the film starts off with an Amish widow (Kelly McGillis - Top Gun) taking her son Samuel (Lukas Haas of Everyone Says I Love You fame) from their home in Lancaster County to visit relatives. However, they have to change trains in Philadelphia.

On visiting the toilet in the station, Samuel witnesses a murder (hence the clever title, eh?). While interviewing Samuel, detective John Book (Harrison Ford) finds that the killer was actually his colleague narcotics officer McPhee from the local station and the victim a grass, implying police impropriety or at worst - bent cops stealing the booty and the loot.

After Book tells his boss, McPhee finds out - indicating that the corruption goes all the way to the top. Book takes the witness to a safe house after an attempt is made on his life. He is forced to go on the run with the witnesses and into hiding - taking them back to their home in Lancaster County while he tries with the help of his police partner to tie up the case from there.

Although a cop drama, the key point of the film is the old (Amish) and modern culture meeting with the obligatory love interest between the two main stars.

However using the classic less is more' understatement, Weir manages to weave all the threads together with the skill of a master craftsman.

High points include the barn raising scene and the erotically charged scene fixing the car in the barn with masterful cinematography from John Seales and score from Maurice Jarre, leading perhaps to one of the most memorable and expansive scenes in eighties cinema.

Anyway McPhee and the crooked cops finally catch up with Book, leading to the inevitable show-down.

Will Book survive and, just as importantly, will he get the girl? Watch it and see. But remember ,no ice cream or I'll get my cousin from the big city to sort you out!

Stephen J. Brennan
EUFS Programme 1998-99


Samuel Lapp is a young Amish boy who is travelling home with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) when he becomes the sole witness to a murder in the Philidelphia rail station. It turns out that the murder was a part of a drugs deal carried out by corrupt cops. A cop called John Book (Harrison Ford) tries to protect Rachel and Samuel, but gets injured. The three flee to the Amish lands to hide. Naturally, the killer's don't want them to arrive...

An otherwise stock thriller plot takes an interesting turn by taking the viewer into the relatively unknown Amish community - locked in a puritan lifestyle whicih their ancestors lived when they first arrived in America hundreds of years ago. In rejecting all the conventions of modern American society, and by being a surprisingly socialist community amidst a sea of capitalism, the Amish are vilified and taunted by tourists.

In many ways this film has more to do with accepting other people and their customs than with being a thriller. It is the 'good guy' Book who is accepted by the Amish because he is willing to accept them as they are. But Witness is also about the urban/rural clash, and ultimately, of course, Book must return to the city - he is a part of modern urban America and all that that entails; and he can never truly adjust to the old ways.

Matthew Bull
EUFS Programme 1995-96