Monday, December 27, 2010

Witness (1985)

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Danny Glover, Brent Jennings, Patti Lupone

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Harrison Ford is John Book - A big city cop who knows too much. His only evidence: a small boy who's seen too much...

Plot: A young Amish boy is sole witness to a murder; policeman John Book goes into hiding in Amish country to protect him until the trial.

My rating: 9/10

Will I watch it again? Damn straight!

The tagline SHOULD be: See! I told you Harrison Ford could act!

I realize how many years it's been since Ford made a genuinely good movie and that a lot of people don't know that there was a time when he actually did some 'acting'. Take Han Solo and Indiana Jones off the table and there very few good movies of his left. WITNESS is one of his best. He and director Weir did two films together, back to back, and this one is just a warm up for his next role in THE MOSQUITO COAST (1986) where he's even better. WITNESS showed the world that this guy's more than just an action hero - he's got range. Well, he HAD range at one time.

Ford is surrounded by talent at every turn in WITNESS - the actors, cinematographer, director, etc. It's a well-crafted story that works on so many levels. It's a detective crime drama, a romantic drama, an action picture, a thriller. EVERYTHING works 100% of the time except for Maurice Jarre's score. I LOVE the score but for a few cues in the final act that just don't work. A soundtrack collector friend of mine (whom I lost touch with over the years) hated Jarre and he'd always say the same thing about his scores. For example for this film he'd say, "Ah, it's just LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in Amish country!", for THE MOSQUITO COAST is was, "Ah, it's just LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in the jungle!" and so on. I disagree but it was always funny. I've rarely liked a Jarre score but for my money, this is his finest.

I used to have issues with Jarre's decision to go fully electronic. The biggest crime was his wonderful fugue during the barn building sequence. That screamed to be orchestral. I got over it and I'm doing fine now, thanks. By in large the electronic score works but I can't help but feel that he could have done the exact same thing with an orchestra and it would have been far better. But what the hell do I know; I'm just some shlub with a computer. Judge for yourself.

First the electronic version...

And then the orchestral version...

I rest my case. There are so many wonderful scenes but one of my favorites is when Book (Ford) and Rachael (McGillis) dance in the barn. The sexual tension is palpable and the nuances of the performances make that moment work so well.

The last Ford picture I thoroughly enjoyed was SABRINA (1995) and in the 15 years since, I've only seen 4 of the 12 pictures he made after that and I didn't like any of them all that much. I really dig Harrison Ford but he's made some horrible choices in the past 15 years that screams WTF, man!

Hey, kids! It's a young Viggo Mortensen!

"Don't put 'em in the peaches."

It was nice to revisit this movie after a long absence. When I saw it for the first time twenty five years ago it instantly became one of my favorite Ford pictures. In the years following I wore out the VHS tape and the later laser disc. WITNESS was etched in my mind so much that not a single frame was unfamiliar when I watched it last week. It's a magnificent film and a reminder that Harrison Ford had 'it' at one time. Oh, how the mighty heroes of our youth have fallen...

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