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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrison Ford shines in a well-crafted film, July 25, 2004
This review is from: Witness [VHS] (VHS Tape)
'Witness' is probably Harrison Ford's best film, and when it was released it showed him another facet of a gifted actor who until then had been known only to most moviegoers only as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. In 'Witness', Ford is police detective John Book, called to interrogate a terrified little Amish boy named Samuel Lapp, and his young widowed mother. An undercover cop has been killed in the men's room at the railroad station, and Samuel, hiding in a stall, is the only eyewitness. Samuel is unable to identify the perp from the usual log of suspects; but there he is, posted prominently on the precinct bulletin board -- a decorated narcotics agent. When Book relates his findings to the police captain, he ends up getting shot himself -- seems the captain is in on it as well. With the captain, the narcotics agent, and a third dirty cop gunning for him, Book needs a place to hide, and what better place than the Lapp house deep in Amish country?

The contrast between the gritty urban police precinct and the bucolic Amish farm country is one of the best things about the film. Book dressed in a blue shirt and black trousers several inches too short for him, looking like the proverbial fish out of the water, is a sight to behold. All of a sudden he's back in the nineteenth century -- no electricity, no cars, no TV or computers. He might as well be on another planet. And the Amish are as different from him as space aliens; gentle, quiet pacifists, hardworking and industrious, intent on keeping the outside world as far from them as possible. They are neighborly and cooperative; the barn-raising scene is inspiring to watch. We feel sympathy for these quiet, decent people as the outside world keeps encroaching, and see them trying to navigate a horse and buggy on the Interstate. Book has to try to fit into this world, and he gives it his best shot. He joins in the barn-raising, does odd chores around the farm. But the Amish, while they respect his abilities, hold him at arm's length. For one thing, he's falling in love with the young widow Lapp, whose feeling for him is mutual. For another, his assimilation is only skin-deep; on a trip into town, when a group of local louts start pestering the Amish, Book chips in with a right to the lout's nose that leaves his face a bloody mess. It's going to prove his undoing; back in his precinct, the narcotics agent and the captain have gotten wind of his hideout, and now they come to shut him up once and for all, and silence Samuel as well.

In contrast to his one-note performances in the 'Star Wars' films and as Indiana Jones, Ford gives a much more nuanced performance in this film; he's the tough city cop on the one hand and the refugee who doesn't fit on on the other. Lukas Haas is very effective as the young boy Samuel, all big eyes and ears; and Kelly McGillis is excellent as his mother, torn between her feelings for Book and her ties to her Amish community; faced with the threat of being shunned for the rest of her life and cut off from everyone she knows if she marries him. There are several notable supporting performances as well, especially the late Alexander Godunov as the widow Lapp's admirer whose innate civility prevents him from expressing the resentment he feels at Books presence, and Danny Glover as the murderous narcotics detective. Peter Weir's sensitive direction plays up the contrast between time and place, sustaining the tension throughout the film. 'Witness' is not an action/adventure blockbuster like the movies that made Ford a household name, but it doesn't need pyrotechnics to stand out. It's a well-crafted, well-acted, eminently satisfying movie.
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