director Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s 1985 thriller, Witness, which was a pretty big hit in its day, was also perhaps one of the biggest introductions of the Amish, or “Pennsylvania Dutch”, into American popular culture. The story is one of those almost “made for Hollywood” scenarios, a culture clash between the harsh big city life and crime and the almost alien lifestyle of a sect of people who shun modernity and technology in striving for a Christian life. Best twist of all, it’s a very young Amish boy who witnesses a murder and must be protected by the Philadelphia cop.
The cop, of course, is Harrison Ford in a strong role in the prime of his career. The kid is the remarkably cute Lukas Haas, one of those all-time child roles. His mother is Kelly McGillis in a role that made her a star. And at the helm, director Peter Weir, delivering a very solid, in some ways understated, naturalistic thriller, highlighting the cultural differences and still managing to tell a compelling story. And Danny Glover! As a bad guy! I’d totally forgotten that.
I hadn’t seen Witness probably since it came out, but I always recalled it as a fine film. I stand by that having re-witnessed it, which I did with my daughter, whose only other information on the Amish came from a recent viewing of Kingpin (1996). She also enjoyed the film. I’d had this one in my queue for some while, one of the ones I thought I’d watch with my kids at some point. It took a random night to get the opportunity.
Weir has always interested me. From his The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) to Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977), Gallipoli (1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) through to The Mosquito Coast (1986), Dead Poets Society (1989) on to Fearless (1993) and The Truman Show (1998), Weir’s filmography is diverse and interesting, different, and compelling.
And Witness is a very fine film.