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Peter Weir
Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Danny Glover, Brent Jennings, Patti LuPone
Writing Credits:
William Kelley, Earl W. Wallace, Pamela Wallace

8 year old Samuel: sole witness to a murder. Three killers who'll stop at nothing to silence him. One honest cop who'll give his life to save him ...

A romantic thriller about a tough urban cop who falls in love with an Amish women while hiding out in Pennsylvania Dutch country. When Detective John Book discovers that the police department may be responsible for the brutal murder he is investigating, Book realizes that both his life and that of Samuel Lapp, the young Amish boy who witnessed the murder, are in danger. Laying low in Lancaster County with Samuel's family, Book finds himself increasingly drawn to the boy's mother, a lovely young widow named Rachel. Though Book grows to cherish the simple ways of the Amish, the gulf between Rachel's culture and his own remains a formidable barrier to their romance.

Box Office:
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$4.539 million on 876 screens.
Domestic Gross
$65.500 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 8/23/2005

• “Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness” Five-Part Documentary
• Deleted Scene
• TV Spots
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Witness: Special Collector's Edition (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 22, 2005)

After 1977’s Star Wars brought Harrison Ford to public attention, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark truly made him a star. However, some questioned whether or not Ford could ever attain success in a film not connected to George Lucas.

In 1985, Witness finally broke Ford out of that mold. For once, Ford worked in something outside of the action genre and inside the real world. This resulted in some of the best critical notices of his career along with his first – and to date, only – Oscar nomination.

Ford plays Philadelphia cop John Book. The film opens in the Amish parts of Pennsylvania, as we see the funeral of Jacob Lapp. His widow Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and young son Samuel (Lukas Haas) try to take the train to visit her sister in Baltimore, but they get stuck at the station in Philly.

While he takes a bathroom break, Samuel witnesses the murder of a police officer. Book heads the investigation, and after many dead ends, Samuel identifies the killer: narcotics Lieutenant James McFee (Danny Glover). Book entrusts his superior, Chief Paul Schaeffer (Josef Summer) with this information, but it promptly comes back to haunt him. Clearly Schaeffer is in cahoots with the killer, as McFee tries to gun down Book.

John survives and manages to move Rachel and Samuel back home. However, he took a bullet in the gut and can’t go to a hospital for treatment; the doctors would have to file a police report, and that would let Schaeffer and the others track him. Rachel tends to Book’s wounds herself and nurses him back to health.

Once he becomes well enough, Book starts to become part of the community. He helps with milking the cows and barn-raisings. He also develops a connection with Rachel. The rest of the film follows their interpersonal developments as well as the threat from the corrupt cops.

In some ways the whole plot about the murder feels like a MacGuffin. It drives the story and gives Book a reason to spend time with the Amish, but the movie doesn’t really want to concern itself with that side of things. Instead, it prefers to concentrate on Amish life and the relationship between Book and Rachel.

It succeeds in both domains. Ford and McGillis demonstrate excellent chemistry, and they make the most of their scenes together. Witness is an extremely quiet, calm movie that rarely indulges in broad theatrics. That means the actors have to make the most out of looks and gestures, as they don’t have other gimmicks on which to rely to show their feelings. McGillis and Ford make those elements work very well, as they connect in a silent but clear manner.

I really like the subdued nature of the film in general. It never beats us over the head, as it prefers to hint at ideas rather than spell them out for us. The movie treats us as intelligent folks who can connect the dots, which means surprisingly little exposition. And you know what? That’s fine, as we can figure out what we need to know from the nuggets provided. We don’t require excessive exposition to let us understand the characters and situations.

Indeed, many aspects of the story benefit from this understated exploration. For instance, it’s abundantly clear from the start the fellow Amish farmer Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Godunov) digs Rachel and that he becomes jealous of Book. However, there’s never a discussion of this or a confrontation scene. It all exists through those looks and gestures, which is a great way to go.

Many films would either treat the Amish as backwards relics or as ideals of basic living. Witness does neither, as it demonstrates the positives and the negatives of the Amish lifestyle. On one hand, we see the great sense of community that binds them together; this comes out best during the barn-raising sequence. On the other hand, the movie hints at Amish intolerance of outsiders or anyone who goes against the grain; when we hear how Rachel will be “shunned” if she goes after Book, we get a clear idea that the Amish don’t like anything different. The flick doesn’t promote one side or the other; it simply presents the ideas and lets us take them as we will.

This means Witness often deflates expectations. Take the scene in which some obnoxious townsfolk taunt the Amish. They’re pacifists who refuse to fight back, but Book doesn’t follow that concept. He promptly beats the crap out of the jerks in what should be a rousing crowd-pleaser of a sequence.

But it’s not. When we delight in Book’s violence, we feel almost ashamed of ourselves for the emotion. He gets a few seconds of visceral revenge but clearly is none the better for it – and probably regrets his betrayal of the Amish community immediately.

That sense of depth is what makes Witness special. Sure, it occasionally gives us what we normally want, and that’s fine. The climactic battle offers a little taste of the standard action flick but doesn’t feel out of place. The film usually stays with uncommon reserve and subtlety that allows it to become something different.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Witness appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer offered a case study in Eighties murkiness.

This resulted in some iffy definition. Most of the time, sharpness looked acceptably concise and accurate, but more than a few exceptions occurred. Some shots came across as tentative and slightly mushy. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, but mild edge enhancement popped up throughout the film. Print flaws caused further distractions. The movie could be rather grainy, and a mix of specks and marks could be seen periodically. I’ve seen dirtier films, but this one still could use some cleaning.

The palette of Witness favored muted tones, which made sense given its low-key production design. However, I’m not sure they should be as drab as they often looked. Greens and browns dominated and seemed fairly flat much of the time. Occasionally the tones pepped up a bit, but the film’s rusty Eighties roots came through via the generally bland colors. Blacks also were a bit inky, while shadows tended to be somewhat murky. The film looked better in daytime exteriors, and those allowed it to earn a “C+”. The rest of the time it presented a pretty dreary picture.

Matters improved somewhat with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Witness, but things remained unremarkable. That was to be expected from such a quiet film, and the mix opened matters up only sporadically. The biggest use of the audio came during the climactic sequence, as the surrounds came more actively into play with gunfire and other elements. They also popped up during a thunderstorm as well as in the train station. Music spread moderately to the rears, with the most prominent example coming from a thumping drum sound during the climax.

Otherwise, the audio concentrated strongly on the front. Maurice Jarre’s synthesizer score demonstrated solid stereo imaging, and the rest of the mix showed decent ambience. That was about all we got most of the time, as the quiet country setting didn’t lend itself to theatrics.

Audio quality was reasonably good, though the mix occasionally showed its age. Speech demonstrated somewhat thin and reedy qualities, and I heard some edginess at times. The lines were acceptably natural in general, though, and they remained intelligible.

Music worked well. The score offered surprising depth and range, and it came across with nice clarity. Effects didn’t play a huge role, and they occasionally seemed a bit tinny. However, they mostly sounded clear and accurate, and the smattering of louder scenes boasted good bass response. This was a restrained soundtrack that seemed fairly average for its era.

While not packed with extras, this new “Special Collector’s Edition” of Witness packs a few pieces. The main attraction comes from a new five-part documentary called Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness. When viewed via the “Play All” option, the entire package lasts 63 minutes, 52 seconds. It offers a mix of movie clips, archival materials and interviews. We get notes from director Peter Weir, producer Edward S. Feldman, director of photography John Seale, actors Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Patti LuPone, and Viggo Mortensen.

We learn of the original script and the project’s development, how Weir and others came onto the project, the interaction between Weir and Ford, research by Ford and McGillis, casting, changes in the story, problems with the ending, shooting in Amish country and connected complications, Ford’s attitude on the set and character development, Weir’s methods, cinematographic choices, working with a child actor, issues related to the scene in which Haas handles a gun, the movie’s comedic moments, the use of music, the barn-raising scene, sex, dialogue and violence in the film, and the movie’s legacy. “Worlds” uses a somewhat scattershot approach and doesn’t come across as the most coherent view of the production. That said, it offers plenty of fine information about the project. The inclusion of major participants like Weir and Ford certainly helps, and all involved present frank and intriguing notes about the production. “Worlds” works well and provides a solid overview of Witness.

In addition, we find one deleted scene. Described as being “from the network TV airing”, this clip runs four minutes and 10 seconds. It shows additional interaction between John’s sister Elaine (Patti LuPone) and Rachel when John stows the two Amish folks at her house overnight. It gives us some decent character insight, but it takes away from the movie’s focus and was a good cut.

Along with the film’s theatrical trailer, we locate three TV spots. Previews includes ads for Airplane, Tommy Boy, “The John Wayne Collection” and MacGyver. These also appear at the start of the DVD.

Unusually calm and restrained, Witness benefits from its lack of hysterics. The flick’s reserved nature allows it to become something different when compared to the standard cop movie. The DVD offers fairly mediocre picture with decent audio and a small set of supplements highlighted by a very good documentary. While not a slam dunk DVD, Witness does what it needs to do in the quality department, and the movie itself is more than good enough for me to recommend this set.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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