Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Witness" (1985)

Last weekend was the first time I'd watched this movie in many years.  And Cowboy had never seen it, so it was a great treat to snuggle up with him on the couch and drift back into an oh-so-familiar movie world for the first time in probably over a decade.  When I was in high school, we had a taped-off-TV copy that I watched many, many times.  A dozen at least, I would say.  I still knew almost all the dialog by heart.

And yet, despite being so very familiar with what happens, the finale had my heart pounding and my fists clenched.  It's that powerful.

It all begins with an Amish funeral for a man named Jacob Lapp.  Some time later, his widow Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and young son Samuel (Lukas Haas) embark on a train trip to visit relatives.  In the bathroom of a train station in Philadelphia, Samuel witnesses the murder of an undercover cop.



Captain John Book (Harrison Ford) arrives to question Samuel and begin investigating the murder.  Things get exciting and complicated (trying to avoid spoilage here), and a wounded Book ends up driving both Rachel and Samuel back to their Amish farm.  Rachel's father-in-law Eli (Jan Rubes) reluctantly agrees to hide the injured detective, since the people who shot him will be trying to kill Samuel too, to cover up that murder he witnessed.


Book convalesces and finds himself attracted to Rachel.  She clearly returns his feelings, and of course this could create big problems if they were to act on their attraction.  I get the feeling that Rachel was not particularly happy in her marriage to the now-deceased Jacob, because... yes, this is Harrison Ford in his prime, but if Cowboy had just died a few months earlier, I don't think I'd be spending time trying to entice the second guy to show interest in me.  I don't think I'd be drinking lemonade on the porch with the neighbor boy either.  This probably just means Cowboy is a far superior husband to Jacob.  On the other hand, Cowboy says that happily married people whose spouses have died are more likely to remarry -- and remarry much sooner -- than unhappily married widowed people.  So maybe this means Rachel and Jacob loved each other a lot.  Who knows.

So then things get really exciting again, and there's a bunch of mayhem and shooting and general exhibitions of manly bravery and quick thinking from John Book.


Anyway, why do I love this movie?  Besides the presence of Harrison Ford, I mean.  Partly, it's the fish-out-of-water angle, as I love those kinds of stories.  Partly, it's the forbidden romance -- yes, I'll admit it.  People falling in love who shouldn't is a big sweet spot for me.  (Jane Eyre, Rebecca...)  Partly it's the good-outsmarts-evil-and-saves-the-day.  And partly it's just that the Amish are pretty fascinating.

I think what I might like best, after Harrison Ford, is the way it's filmed.  Peter Weir directed this in an almost orchestral way.  Fields of waving winter wheat, a barn's frame being lifted high into the air, a woman pouring a cup of lemonade -- he brings together all kinds of simple images and turns them into a beautiful symphony, each small piece contributing to the whole. 

Is this a family friendly movie?  No.  It's got violence, quite a bit of very bad language, and some nudity.  However, if you have something like ClearPlay or a friend who knows what to mute and fast-forward through, it cleans up easily.  Or a copy you taped off TV, those work really well.

12 comments:

  1. Sounds like a very cool/interesting movie. :)

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    1. It is! It's one of my ten favorite dramas, in fact. Full of interesting character development, great cinematography, and some pulse-racing action at the end.

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  2. Just saw this movie again, and love it, too!
    The picture where the baddies walk towards the farm is extremely suspensful.
    One thing I don't understand: This looks to me like a movie which is made quite thoroughly (except for the buttons on some people's shirts). But why does the Amish grandfather use an office chair (with wheels)? It's so weird! Nevertheless - one of my favourites.
    Swissmounty

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    1. Hello! I was just thinking about you today, realizing we haven't written in a while. And then you pop up here!

      I'm not Amish, so I might be wrong on this, but the way I understand it is that the Amish refuse to use things that could take their attention away from God. They dress as plainly as possible -- you notice in this movie that there are no colorful clothes, only white, black, and grey. Any decorations on their clothing is forbidden because you could become proud or vain as a result, so even buttons aren't allowed. TV, radio, movies, cars, even electricity could all cause a person to see, hear, go places, or do things that could make their minds wander to impure, ungodly things, so those aren't allowed either. But a rolling office chair is useful and doesn't present distractions, so it's fine. (Also, it's funny, and used for a humorous moment in the movie.) Also, wheels aren't exactly a modern invention, so I suppose Eli could have made his own wheeled chair if he'd wanted to.

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  3. bardzo super akcja tego filmu

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  4. I've just watched this excellent movie again – I think it is one of Peter Weir's best, and the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis is wonderful. The film is sometimes referred to as a "neo noir", although I don't see too much "noir" in it, except at the beginning and the captivating ending, of course. The "culture clash" thing between hard-boiled detective John Book (Ford) and the Amish community with their very strict rules is beautifully captured. As my mother tongue is German, I liked the old-fashioned German the Amish speak at times; amazing how that survived in the midst of "those English" (as Grandpa Lapp calls them). I think a very young Viggo Mortensen (of Aragorn fame) made his screen debut here as the younger of the Hochleitner brothers (the older is ex-ballet dancer Alexander Godunov, if I'm not totally mistaken). Mortensen later commented that in the building of the barn scene he was impressed by Harrison Ford's skills – seems Ford is a first rate carpenter in addition to being a first rate actor. Well, I guess the Force was very much with him in this splendid movie.

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    1. Andrea (I kind of assume this is you), I agree! The chemistry between the leads is great, and the whole cast really sell the story. I've seen this called neo-noir too, and I don't really think of it as neo-noir because it lacks that bleakness and sense of impending despair that noir tends to have.

      Yes, young Viggo Mortensen is fun to find in this!

      Harrison Ford gave up on acting for a time in the 1970s and made his living as a carpenter. In fact, he was cast as Han Solo after George Lucas ran into him while he was doing some carpentry work, Lucas asked if he was still acting (Harrison Ford had been in his movie American Grafitti), and the rest is the stuff of legends :-)

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  5. Hi Rachel, yes, that was I (thanks for your reply)– I seem to be digitally challenged, I would of course like to post my comments as "Andrea" and not "Unknown"... But I don't know how to do that, since under "Comment as:" it says "name/URL" and I don't know zilch about URL – can I only comment as "Andrea" if I have my own website (which I don't have)? You see, I'm not a digital native, far from it... Sorry!

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    1. Andrea -- do you have a Google account at all, like a Gmail address? If so, you can log in with that. But I know not everyone has that, so I do still allow unknown/anonymous comments. You could always just say something like --Andrea at the end of your comments and then I'll know it's you!

      Hope you're having a good Monday :-)

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  6. Hi Rachel, thanks – Indeed, that's the simplest solution. I think I do have a Google account (although no Gmail address) – well, I guess I just "sign" my posts with my name.
    My Monday in Europe is almost over – just thinking now what movie to choose to unwind... Good Monday to you, too!
    Andrea

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    1. Andrea, glad I could help you figure something out!

      I'm in the middle of watching Two Years Before the Mast with my best friend -- watched the first hour last night, and will watch the rest tonight. Not my favorite Alan Ladd movie, but solidly enjoyable. And it's so nice to see Brian Donlevy as a nice guy for once.

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