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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Witness

Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis
Director: Peter Weir
Rated: R
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: February 1985
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense, Romance

*Also starring: Danny Glover, Josef Sommer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Patti LuPone, Viggo Mortensen

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

Aren't we all just a little bit fascinated with the Amish? These are people who have rejected the American government as well as every technological advancement of the last couple centuries in favor of those oppressive suits, beards and brimmed hats -- bonnets for the ladies. Those of us who are slave to electricity and television, not to mention the utter extravagance of running water, wonder what these inbred cults could see in plowing and milking at 4:30 in the morning.

These innate curiosities we all have about Amish people are what elevates WITNESS from being just an average 80's action flick. Harrison Ford, Mr. 80's Action Flick himself, plays a police detective assigned to crack open the murder of a fellow officer. The only witness to the murder is a little Amish boy (Lukas Haas) who happened to be hiding in a bus station bathroom stall at the time of the murder, most likely mesmerized by the flush technology.

Ford drags Haas and his mother (Kelly "Top Gun" McGillis, in her other movie appearance) to the police station, making him root through mug shots and lineups. More importantly, he exposes young Lukas to a world of sin and corruption which McGillis and her bearded counterparts have been trying to shelter him from. That's when Haas sees a picture of one of the force's most respected officers (Danny Glover) and recognizes him as the killer.

Since, beneath its Amish exterior, this is a typical 80's action movie, millions of dollars in drugs are involved and the police corruption runs pretty much throughout the department. So Ford has to find a place to hide himself and his Amish witnesses. What better place than Pennsylvania Amish country? That's when the tables are turned and Ford finds himself a fish out of water, a fish in an oppressive suit and a bigass brimmed hat.

WITNESS could have been a contrived comedy -- those were very popular in the 80's -- but it instead tries to paint a realistic portrait of Amish life. This ends up being a lot funnier than a sitcom approach, because nothing is more laughable than life itself. They bring out every Amish stereotype in the book, even a barn-raising. In this age of political correctness, the Amish are one of the last constituent groups that are still safe to make fun of, probably because they won't ever see or hear about what's being said about them, nor do they care. In their eyes, Billy Graham is a heathen for owning an electric hair dryer.

The middle half of the movie is the actionless assimilation of Ford into the Amish community, which is always interesting if not amusing. Crusty old Eli doesn't like Ford too much, especially when he finds him dancing to rock music with his daughter (McGillis). Amish Kelly doesn't compromise herself with Ford beyond the realm of hungry French kisses, even if she does appear topless in a shower scene. That's where I really wouldn't have minded the Puritan approach; McGillis looks just like my high school Bible teacher. Seeing her make out with Tom Cruise was bad enough.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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