HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:66
“Witness” has to be one of the most entertaining and unique catalog titles that I’ve seen I the last year. I never actually WATCHED “Witness” until this viewing, but I’ve owned both of the original DVDs for years. They’ve just sat on my shelf in the “I’ll get to this next” pile along with a bunch of other titles. I have no idea WHY I’ve never watched it, as I grew up on Harrison Ford and have loved him in everything that I’ve seen him in, but who knows. “Witness” is unique being that it starts out as a thriller, and then suddenly dips into a culture therapy film with elements of romance, only to reacquire its thriller theme once more by the end of the film. There are a few flaws to the film, but Director Peter Weir (of “Dead Poet’s Society”) handles the action and lack of action extremely well, allowing for an organic growth period for both characters.
On a trip to the City, Amish child Samuel (Luka Haas) and his mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis) end of in the middle of murder investigation after Samuel witnesses dirty cop, McFee (Danny Glover) kill a man in a public bathroom. Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) takes the kid in as a material witness in hopes of finding out who did the murder. Things get really nasty when Book realizes that not only McFee is dirty, but his own captain is involved. Wounded and running out of options, Book decides to slip in and hide among the Amish while he figures out what to do.
Here’s where the change of pace happens. Living among the Amish is a strange feeling for anyone, but for a cop it’s even worse. Living peacefully, waking up at 4:30 to milk cows, and of course he’s kind of the outsider as the Amish people look at him as a whirlwind come to destroy their peaceful little world. Nursed back to health by Rachel, Book does his best to fit in while he can clear his head and figure out what to do next. Soon enough the young widow and Book feel that natural spark of attraction, but their Romeo and Juliet level of differences conspire to keep them apart. Things are almost a picture perfect romance, complete with forbidden desire until McFee and his cohorts track Book down and force a confrontation on the peaceful Amish.
“Witness” manages to be a captivating film about love and acceptance wrapped up in the thriller veneer. The opening and the ending setup the inciting incident and instigation for Book to go back out to the “real” world, but the cop story isn’t really that important to the actual point of the film. The real meat of the story happens on the Amish farm, where Rachel and Book are forced to put aside their misconceptions and deal with their inner pain. Rachel is a widow of some years, young and vibrant, but left with a young child and no one to call her own. Prejudiced against the outside world she baulks at Book’s brusque nature and automatically wants to shun the cop, even if he’s trying to help her and her son. Book is a good cop, but a bit weak on the commitment side. He does his job, takes down bad guys, but never seems to be able to emotionally connect (at least that’s what his sister says). Combine the two characters on an Amish farm out in the middle of Pennsylvania and you have a fish out of water story that requires some serious change from both people. Rachel realizes that people are just people. Human beings with emotions, even if they were raised differently than you. Book finally is able to connect with someone on a serious level, allowing him to become honest with himself as well as the people around him.
The film works on many levels, but sometimes fails as well. The romance can get a bit clichéd in parts, especially considering that fact that Book is really only there for like a week. The male bravado tension between book and the jealous Daniel (Alexander Godunov…..you might recognize him as the giant blonde German “Karl” from “Die Hard”), gets a little annoying as well. The whole chest thumping tends to get a bit old, even if it is a real life trope. Still, Kelly and Harrison have an incredible chemistry together, allowing for their romance to feel natural, even in an unnatural setting. I’m not going to spoil it completely, but the decision for their romance to be a bit untraditional (at least by Hollywood standards) was a stroke of genius, as it works so much better than the expected ending.
Rated R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55482[/img]The DVDs for “Witness” have always been really flawed. The original special edition DVD was ok, but it suffered from some DNR and lots of compression artifacts. The re-release of the film wasn’t any better, showcasing the same compression artifacts and TONS of waxy DNR that marred up the picture. Comparing my old DVDs against the Blu-ray showed that the higher resolution and a decent master makes a good bit of difference. Don’t get me wrong, the Blu-ray still is a bit waxy and I can see many points where the facial detail gets artificially softened just a bit, but it’s not as egregious as the old DVDs. Not to mention that the compression artifacts are almost all gone. I noticed a bit of pixilation during the train ride to Philadelphia, but past that I really didn’t see much if any compression artifacts past that. Now onto the good. The image has always been grainy and the Blu-ray is no different. During bright outdoor sequences the grain tends to fade quite a bit, but darker indoor scenes accentuate the grain and put a little noise into the picture as well. Colors are nice and strong, with a slightly whitish looking grading to the film. Skin tones take on a slightly pasty look during a few scenes, but otherwise remain robust and fairly ruddy for a majority of the time. Black levels are very good, giving way to nice shadow detail, but sometimes I noticed some crush. Particularly towards the end.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55490[/img]“Witness” has the distinction of having a TrueHD track instead of DTS-HD MA like the other catalog titles form Paramount released this month, which means one of two things. Either the disc was actually created a while ago and shelved for months or years by Paramount, or it is re-using the same master and audio from the foreign release. Either way, the track is a definite upgrade over the DVD. You can hear the clip clopping of hooves distinctly on the cobblestone, and the gunfire between McFree and Book carry some excellent dynamics. Voices are always crystal clear, but I did notice a harsh sound on some of the really high vocals (especially when a character yells). LFE is tight and punchy, adding some weight to the gun battles at the beginning and end of the film, but mainly just acts as an addition to the score. Surrounds are nice, with some solid ambiance floating through from the back of the room, although it isn’t exactly mixed as strong as modern films. The mix is a tad front heavy and mainly focuses on the front 3 speakers with some back end support for good measure.
“Witness” is one of those classics that I’ve had in my collection for ages but never watched. I owned both iterations of the DVD, but did the old “I’ll get to it later” routine. Years later I’m wondering why I never watched the stinking film before this time! After watching the older DVDs to compare against the Blu-ray I can understand why. Neither of them look very good, and the Blu-ray, despite some flaws is easily the best presentation. A romance that doesn’t end like a typical romance, and a thriller that takes back seat to the romance makes an odd pairing, but somehow the film works, and works quite well. Definitely worth a watch.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Danny Glover
Directed by: Peter Weir
Written by: William Kelley, Pamela Wallace
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish (Castllian), Spanish (Latin), German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese DD 2.0
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 112 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: September 13th 2015
Buy Witness On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Good Watch
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