Peter Weir’s sixth movie, Witness, is often studied as part of the High School English Curriculum as a Comparative Text so there is a whole generation who have seen it because they needed to write an essay in school and not just for fun. It is about an Amish boy who sees the murder of an undercover police officer in a Philadelphia train station bathroom and has to be hidden away in his Amish community along with an ‘English’ cop to protect him.
It is a studio film in the sense that the script had been green lit and was sent to Peter Weir for him to choose for his first American movie. It earned eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Weir’s first nomination as Best Director. Witness starred the leading man of the time, Harrison Ford (also nominated as Best Actor for this performance), Kelly McGillis, who was just about to enter the stratosphere with Top Gun in 1986, and child star Lukas Haas, who received wide praise for his debut film performance. There was some controversy at the time of its release from the Amish community did not believe the film showed their culture correctly. However, for most audiences, this was the first time the Amish had been shown in any significant way in a movie.
I watched it this week for the first time in about 20 years and it is wonderful. I am not sure that films today would be allowed the pacing that Witness has, which is a shame, because the pacing of this film is everything. It has great performances, a tight script, fantastic direction and cinematography, and a slow build story with moments of quiet decisions and unspoken communication. Witness is a classic film from story tellers at the height of their creativity.
Rent it, stream it or pop your copy of it in your DVD player (if you still have one) and watch it again.