Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas
Director: Peter Weir
Running Time: 112 mins
Witness is an American film about a police detective who fights to protect a young Amish boy after the boy witnessed a murder in the city, forcing the detective to follow him into hiding in a small Amish community.
A gripping thriller throughout, Witness delivers icy thrills and strong intrigue with a captivating story, bolstered by excellent performances and moments of real hard-hitting drama. That being said, it’s never a particularly heart-racing watch, struggling with an often languishing middle act, and worsened by an irritating and inappropriate musical score.
As a whole, Witness has all the hallmarks of a great thriller, and that’s what makes it such an engrossing watch. It twists and turns in impressively unpredictable fashion throughout, and hits hard with moments of strikingly intense emotional drama.
But first things first, the film’s strongest intrigue comes in the form of its crime story in the early stages. A brilliantly simple premise that unfolds ingeniously later on, a young boy accidentally witnessing a murder sets off a long chain of events that put the lives of hundreds in danger.
With Harrison Ford’s Detective John Book standing by the boy and his mother’s side, he finds himself returning with them to their isolated Amish community, only to be stuck there as his investigation into the murder reaches a devastating conclusion.
That tension and frustration on his part, as well as the way that the detective brings unprecedented chaos and peril into the lives of an unassuming Amish community, is what really makes the film a gripping watch, particularly as it all comes to a head in the film’s action-packed final act.
The problem, however, is that the film does seem to forgo that genuinely intriguing crime story for a large portion of its runtime. Instead, for the majority of the middle act, Witness is more of a heartfelt drama that looks at life in the Amish community and how Ford’s character adapts.
Now, the former part of that premise is very interesting, and the film gives striking and worthy insight into how Amish people face discrimination in society. However, the story of how the detective begins to ingratiate himself into the local community is a little more cheesy, and doesn’t quite hit home on the honest, heartfelt level the film is going for.
As a result, the film struggles to really grab your attention for most of its middle portion as it lacks any real emotional impact, as well as the tension of a gripping crime story. And with that, although the story does pick up in the latter stages, the real intensity and heart-racing potential of the film disappointingly falls away.
Also, while the film does impress with a surprisingly gritty, hard-knuckled atmosphere, its musical score is a real bugbear.
Playing out to the tune of that sort of space-age synthesised backing track which was all the rage in the 1980s, Witness is a film that’s often infuriatingly overshadowed by a totally inappropriate, incredibly intrusive and now painfully dated score.
Why such a style of music was so popular for normal Hollywood dramas in the ’80s is still beyond me, but it really doesn’t do Witness any favours, ripping away the grittier, more intense levels of its drama and replacing them with a painfully distracting space-age tune throughout.
Still, that doesn’t stop the story from being gripping, and although the music is a real misjudgment here, there’s no denying that Witness is still a great watch.
With strong intrigue from the very beginning, and bolstered by striking social insight and good performances, it’s an engrossing watch throughout, albeit not quite the heart-stopping thriller that it really wants to be. And that’s why I’m giving Witness a 7.3 overall.