Witness Blu-ray Review: Harrison Ford Among the Amish

Harrison Ford, Kelly McGinnis, and Lukas Haas star in Witness (1985), a crime thriller that takes place mostly in the Pennsylvania Amish country.  A strong cast and a good story which finds Danny Glover as the heavy. It’s easy to see why it got so many Oscar nods. 

Buy Witness Blu-ray

A recently widowed Amish mother, Rachel (McGillis), takes her young son, Samuel (Haas), on a train trip to Baltimore. While held over at the station in Philadelphia, the boy witnesses a brutal murder of what turns out to be a police officer. Detective John Book (Ford) shows up to interview the boy who later fingers another highly decorated officer named McFee (Glover) as the man who did the killing. Things get crazy as McFee then tries to kill Book, leading him to grab the witness and his mom, and book it out of town back to Amish country to lay low and recover from a wound. Meanwhile, McFee and another bad cop, Book’s mentor Schaeffer (Josef Sommer), plot to find them and snuff them out.  

Witness, directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Green Card, Master and Commander), is enjoyable from start to finish, and the cast comes off as authentic as they handle their roles superbly. The story works and it’s interesting to watch the “fish out of water” role reversed as Ford’s John Book is forced to hide in Amish country and respect their ways, as opposed to the start of the movie which found Rachel and Samuel in the strange world of the “English” as they travel outside their familiar farm lands. It’s also certainly different seeing Danny Glover in his smaller part as the villain, especially after being so used to his good cop role in the Lethal Weapon movies but he pulls it off and shows his mean side.  

Harrison Ford steps away from the larger-than-life hero roles (Han Solo, Indiana Jones) and steps up as an everyday Philly detective doing his best to keep the department on the up-and-up. Ford brings his laid back, quiet cool to the struggles and frustrations that Book has with the Amish’s “plain” ways of life. He again shows he can handle the action scenes and both the more lighthearted comedy and drama aspects of Witness as well. He also gets a chance to show off some of his legendary carpentry skills as he uses a planer and helps raise a barn. 

McGillis does a fine job playing the “plain” Rachel, a widow and protective mother who turns out to have a bit of a wild side. She shines especially bright in the bittersweet moments of Rachel’s life. The iconic scene in the barn where she dances with Book as he fixes his car while Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” plays on the radio. Or her eagerness to accept a man, very much different from those she’s known before, whom she knows she can’t really have. The ever-sexy McGillis who is no stranger to nude scenes, manages the one placed here with a humble grace.

Young Lucas Haas brilliantly plays Samuel, a boy in a very unfamiliar world that witnesses firsthand how brutal life in the big city can be. Haas does well as a quiet, curious lad thrust into a very grown-up situation. His interactions with Jan Rubes as his grandfather and the rest of the cast are sincere as they all play very well together on screen.

Witness stands as a solid crime thriller due to its strong cast and its unique story setting. It’s too bad this Blu-ray edition has no extras features as it would have been nice to have some interviews or commentary tracks. I can’t complain too much as I’m just happy to have this classic in my ever-growing Blu-ray collection. Keep your eyes open for Robert Earl Jones (father of James Earl Jones) and Viggo Mortensen in his first big screen part.

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Joe Garcia III

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