1985 saw its fair share of ultra-trashy thrillers but Peter Weir's "Witness" bucked the trend with an overall far calmer veneer, under which hid considerable tension.
Harrison Ford stars as a disillusioned cop heading nowhere, when he becomes involved in a case that will radically change his perceptions. A young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) is witness to a murder in a train station where he and his mother (Kelly McGillis) have been travelling to visit her sister. It's a rare trip for them outside their puritanical Amish roots and only confirms their fear of a seemingly-violent outside world.
Ford's aggressive and coarse manner does not go down well with the sensitive McGillis who is trying to protect her son. He seems equally unpopular with his colleagues and the further he delves into the case, the clearer it becomes that he's in personal danger.
This development allows Weir to get Ford into the Amish countryside where he seeks refuge. Initially he's unwelcome but as he adapts to their ways they open up to him and this transformation occupies the body of the film. It's a fascinating and quiet world that Weir paints. But underneath the blossoming relationship between Ford and McGillis and the overall calm, lies the inevitable danger that they will be tracked down and violence will enter their world.
A lot of care and attention has gone into both the Oscar-winning screenplay and the beautiful cinematography, to create a powerful and romantic story. On that level this is a deep and moving film. But a tacked-on, Hollywood-style ending mars the tender emotions explored here. It spoils things slightly but arguably serves to remind us that such an idyllic lifestyle can't last forever.
Read a review of the DVD.