October 4, 2019

Witness (1985)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas

What it's about. John Book (Harrison Ford) is a dedicated and incorruptible police detective assigned to the case of a murdered policeman. Because it's a movie, the only witness to the hit is eight-year-old Amish boy Samuel (Lukas Haas). The impossibly cute and innocent Samuel, as well as his lovely mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis), are questioned by Book.

Because it is a movie, Book believes Samuel when the latter identifies high-ranking cop McFee (Danny Glover) as the killer. Book takes the matter to his superior, Schaeffer (Josef Sommer). Because it is a movie, Schaeffer is in on the conspiracy with McFee. Also because it is a movie, Schaeffer dispatches McFee to snuff Book, which he fails to do even though he has the drop on Book.

In the shootout, McFee escapes and Book is injured. Because it is a movie, the heroic Book manages to drive Rachel and Samuel back to their Amish home, and relative safety, before Book passes out. Because it is a movie, Rachel decides to nurse Book back to health instead of reporting him to police, despite the concerns of Samuel's live-in grandfather, Eli (Jan Rubes).

Book recovers, and hides out with Rachel, Samuel, and Eli. Because it is a movie, a romance promptly develops between the conveniently unattached Book and the conveniently widowed Rachel. This is a minor scandal in the socially conservative Amish community.

Inevitably, McFee, Schaeffer, and a third bad cop track down Book at his Amish farm. A shootout follows with a predictable, though improbably, outcome.

How others will see it. The likable, humble, and handsome Harrison Ford had yet another box office hit with Witness. The movie made stars out of McGillis and Haas, and it was also a success for director Weir, who made his Hollywood debut after making several noteworthy Australian films.

Witness was also popular with critics. It was nominated for eight Oscars, six Golden Globes, and seven BAFTA awards. Today at imdb.com, it has a respectable 80K user votes and a fairly high user rating of 7.4 out of 10. The user ratings span from 7.2 (for men under age 45) to 7.9 (from women over age 45). The user reviews effuse with praise for the story, direction, and cast.

How I felt about it. There was a lot about Witness that I disliked. The boy was too cute and innocent, the mother was too beautiful and too recently widowed. Rachel and Samuel grieve for their respective husband and father far too briefly. Why is the cop in the bathroom murdered? How many murders of cops do McFee and Schaeffer think they can get away with? Why can't the producers pay up for Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World", the one oldies stations actually play, instead of an inferior imitation?

Why would Schaeffer assign his best cop to the case if he doesn't want it solved? Why couldn't the bad cops promptly trace Ford's location? No one in the Amish community would know the location of a beautiful widowed brunette named Lapp and her eight-year-old son? How did the windshield get fixed? Why does an Amish film have a synthesizer score?

Certain crowd-pleasing scenes don't go over well with me. The passionate kissing between Book and Rachel, as if they are high school sweethearts, seems overblown. Book breaking the nose of a jerk student when he has his girlfriend and her son to protect. Book turning away from McFee shooting at him to yell at a pair of bystanders. The bystander shouting "that's my car!" when there is obvious gunfire in the vicinity.

But I have to admit that the movie is well crafted, and Harrison Ford is as likable as ever. Nonetheless, I much prefer the similar Angel and the Badman (1947).