March 15, 2024

Revisiting WITNESS

WITNESS (Blu-ray)
1985 / 113 min
Available at
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Considering Witness was just recently restored and released by Arrow Video on Blu-ray & 4K, both loaded with supplemental material, it seems odd to be getting a Paramount reissue of a previous bare-bones edition. On the other hand, if all you care about is the movie without bells & whistles, this one's a little easier on the wallet.

For those too young to recall, Witness was a huge hit in the ‘80s and arguably the first movie where Harrison Ford was taken seriously as an actor. He even earned an Oscar nod for his performance as Philadelphia detective John Book, tasked with protecting an Amish boy who witnesses the murder of an undercover cop. Surrounded by corruption in his own department, Book, the boy and his mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis), go into hiding in the family’s village, where he learns the Amish ways to fit in.

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Ford’s still a lot more fun when punching Nazis or running from Tommy Lee Jones, but he’s certainly the best part of this film. Storywise, we’ve seen a lot of it before…the fish-out-of-water story, the cop who falls in love with his witness, etc. But Ford’s performance keeps it interesting, probably because we hadn’t seen him in a role like this before. At the very least, he’s more engaging than catatonic co-star McGillis.

Behind the camera, Peter Weir brings visual freshness to all the familiarity and keeps the story moving along efficiently. While not his best film, Witness was the one that elevated him from respected Australian director to Hollywood A-lister. Elsewhere, one of the fun things about revisiting old films is catching now-famous actors in small early roles. In this case, look for Danny Glover as a corrupt killer cop and Viggo Mortensen in his film debut as one of the Amish.

Overall, Witness has aged pretty well for a nearly 40-year-old movie, with only Maurice Jarre’s atypically terrible score serving as a reminder of the decade in which it was released. The film walks a familiar narrative path, but did give Harrison Ford the chance to try something different at the time, and he made to most of it.

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