A little less than a year from now, folks everywhere will be all abuzz over Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Until fans get a chance to collectively splooge at the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, I thought it’d be nice to look back at his other performances. Noteworthy ones like John Book, the only role to earn Ford an Oscar nomination.
Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and her son Samuel (Lukas Haas) are traveling from their Amish homestead to Baltimore to visit her sister. While waiting on their connecting train in the Philadelphia station, young Samuel is in a bathroom stall when he witnesses a man’s murder. Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) keeps the two overnight hoping the boy can identify the one man he saw. When Samuel fingers narcotics detective McFee (Danny Glover), Book turns to his boss Schaeffer (Josef Sommer) for the collar. When Book is later ambushed by McFee, he loses trust in his precinct, and returns Rachel and Samuel home where he hides among the Amish to protect the boy.
Lauded with 8 academy award nominations and ultimately winning for both screenplay and film editing, Witness is a cinematic heavy hitter. And to think, it almost never got greenlit because studios weren’t interested in making a ‘rural’ movie because people wouldn’t watch it. In my own rural youth, the last thing I wanted was to watch a film like it, but teenagers aren’t necessarily the audience Witness is looking to draw.
Though not the first to come to the project, Peter Weir directs a story that was originally outlined for an episode of Gunsmoke. Rest assured this thriller carries more heft and emotion than the western drama. The tension doesn’t wholly reside in the endangerment of Book and Samuel’s lives. While it begins as such, it’s the tension between Book and Rachel that’s more engrossing. The Amish widow and the big city cop couldn’t be more at odds when they first meet, but as their time together lengthens, their desire builds. Their longing glances and shared moments don’t go unnoticed by the community; Rachel’s father (Jan Rubes) warns her of the consequences for acting on her thoughts toward the “Englishman.” My favorite scene, and not because of the nudity as one might think, is when Rachel makes a very forward advance to Book, but Book averts his gaze as would any respectful man would. It speaks volumes of how each feels for the other.
All this pent up passion is made more poignant by a wonderful score by Maurice Jarre. Eventually, the romance steps aside to return audiences to the main reason why Book lives among the Amish. His hot-blooded English ways brings the bad guys a-knockin’ and alone and unarmed he must face the men would see him and the boy dead.
From the beautiful rolling landscapes to an old-time barn-raising to bloody shoot-outs, Witness draws you in with charm and thrills and doesn’t let go. Movies like this are hard to come by, so if you happen upon this one one day, do yourself a favor and watch it.