By: Denis Blot
Witness has become one of those films like The Goonies, which has been seen on television countless times and each time one cannot help but tune in. Director Peter Weir managed to strike a perfect balance between thriller and love story, providing enjoyment to both male and female audiences alike. He also managed to capture some of Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis’ best performances.
Peter Weir, started his career in Australia making classic films like; Gallipoli and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Witness was his first American movie and its success firmly established his position in Hollywood. He has gone on to make other major hits such as Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, and most recently Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Weir is a gifted director in his ability to let actions speak larger than words, often choosing to let the character’s expressions and gestures tell the story as opposed to long-winded dialogue.
Witness, is certainly one of the best examples of this talent, not only is the love story between Ford and McGillis established with looks, smiles, and silent pauses, but also their interaction with Alexander Godunov (McGillis’ other love interest). Likewise, the look on a young Amish boy as fear overtakes him, leaving him unable to scream, is haunting.
Weir presents a sharp contrast between the Amish and the modern world; not simply in their mannerisms and lack of technology, but in the lack of violence as well. It is when McGillis and Lukas Haas as an Amish mother and son visit the city that they first encounter violence, chaos, and noise, and those elements come with them upon their return home with a city detective (Ford). Although Ford does his best to integrate himself into the Amish world his presence ultimately draws violence into the peaceful community.
Witness has maintained its popularity because it is a timeless film. The love story is the classic tale of lovers from different worlds unable to free themselves from the attachments and life they have built, whilst knowing full well the other could never fully embrace their world. The film due to its location in an Amish setting, never ages. As the Amish choose to live their life following a lifestyle set in the 17th century, Witness retains a sense of being current with every viewing.
The new special collector’s edition of Witness offers a five-part documentary (viewable as a whole or in sections) with interviews of cast and crew offering great trivia information. It would have been a good idea to have had Peter Weir and director of photography John Seale provide an audio commentary for the film, although while interviewed they do answer some of the questions astute viewers may have. The DVD will be a welcome addition to any collection.