CLASSIC: Witness (Peter Weir, 1985)

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As Harrison Ford vehicles go, Witness is up there with the best. The film skilfully treads a tricky line which unites police corruption drama and a fish-out-of-water story, with a forbidden romance thrown in. Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) is forced to hide from his corrupt colleagues after he discovers their criminal activities. This discovery is made by a young Amish boy, Samuel, while he visits the big city of Baltimore for the first time with his mother – he witnesses (geddit?) one of the corrupt police officers commit a murder, and is able to point out the culprit to John while at the police station.

From there, the narrative goes from 0-60. John shares his discovery with trusted Chief Paul Shaffer who, naturally, turns out to be the mastermind of the whole operation. John takes Samuel and his mother, Rachel, back to their community and is forced to stay there while he recovers from a gunshot wound. What follows is a classic fish-out-of-water set up, similar to the contemporary Local Hero (1983), as we see John slowly warm to the tranquillity of Amish life but remain awkwardly aware that this is not his world. This hampers any potential romance between himself and Rachel (Kelly McGillis), although the film does allow a lovely scene where the two dance to Sam Cooke’s ‘Wonderful World’. When the corrupt police finally do find John, the showdown is tense enough for the film to be labelled a thriller.

It is these two elements which make the film work for me. John and Rachel’s impossible romance allows Harrison Ford to do his best Rick Blaine as he nobly leaves her and Samuel (Lukas Haas) and returns to the city. The defeat of corrupt Shaffer (Josef Sommer) is also well judged as it doesn’t descend into unbelievable violence – instead, Shaffer finally realises he’s gone too far and breaks down in defeat.

Witness is a multi-dimensional film which manages to do each element justice. But if none of that grabs you, the film is worth watching solely for John Book’s cathartic beating of a disrespectful tourist who no doubt grew up to be a Trump supporter.

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