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Witness (1985 film)

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Original poster

Directed by Produced by Written by

Peter Weir Edward S. Feldman William Kelley Pamela Wallace Earl W. Wallace Harrison Ford Kelly McGillis Jan Rubes Danny Glover Lukas Haas Viggo Mortensen


Music by Cinematography Editing by Distributed by

Maurice Jarre John Seale Thom Noble Paramount Pictures

Release date(s) Running time Country Language Budget Gross revenue

February 8, 1985 112 minutes United States English $12,000,000 (estimated) $68,706,993 (US) [1]

Witness is a 1985 American thriller film directed by Peter Weir and starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. The screenplay by William Kelley, Pamela Wallace, and Earl W. Wallace focuses on a detective protecting a young Amish boy who becomes the target of a ruthless killer after he witnesses a brutal murder in Philadelphia's 30th Street train station. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It was also nominated for seven BAFTA Awards, winning one for Maurice Jarre's score, and was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards. William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay and the 1986 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay presented by the Mystery Writers of America. The film is also notable as the screen debut of future stars Viggo Mortensen and Lukas Haas. The film's script is a frequent model for budding screenwriters, often used to display clear structure in a script.


1 Plot 2 Cast 3 Production 4 Reception o 4.1 Critical response o 4.2 Controversy o 4.3 Box office o 4.4 Awards and nominations 5 Home media 6 References 7 External links

[edit] Plot
After the death of her husband in Lancaster County in 1984, a young Amish woman Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) decides to take her 8 year old son Samuel (Lukas Haas) into the outside world for the first time on a trip to Baltimore, Maryland to visit her sister. Travelling by train, Samuel

is amazed to see people different from him and sights such as a hot air balloon. When Rachel is waiting to change trains at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Samuel uses the men's room. As he does so, he accidentally witnesses the brutal murder of a man (Timothy Carhart) in the restroom while hiding in the toilet stall. He sees that two men committed the murder, but could only get a good look at one, a tall African-American man. Rachel and Samuel are then introduced to Captain John Book (Harrison Ford) and Sergeant Carter (Brent Jennings), who reveal that the victim was a police officer named Zenovich. Book and Carter take Samuel and Rachel around inner city Philadelphia and has him study pictures of convicts and a police line-up to try to identify Zenovich's murderer, but Samuel does not see a match. Wandering around the police station, Samuel sees a newspaper clipping with a picture of police Narcotics Lieutenant James McFee (Danny Glover), and identifies him as the man he saw at the train station. Book reports this to his superior officer, Chief Paul Schaeffer (Josef Sommer), saying that McFee was responsible for a drug raid where expensive chemicals used to make amphetamines were discovered, but which were never reported to the police department. Zenovich was investigating the disappearance of these chemicals which, if sold, would make McFee a very wealthy man. McFee murdered Zenovich to ensure his silence. Schaeffer advises Book to keep the case secret so they can work out how to move forward with it. As Book returns home, he encounters McFee in a parking garage. McFee tries to shoot him with a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 28 revolver but Book draws his .38 Smith & Wesson Model 10 snub and, after a fierce shoot-out, McFee flees the scene - but not before Book is wounded. Book realizes that since he only told Schaeffer about McFee's corruption, then Schaeffer must be corrupt too. Book then phones Carter and tells him to remove all the police files that include the Lapps' details, and that he is going into hiding. Schaeffer, McFee and Fergie (Angus MacInnes), the second murderer of Zenovich, start their hunt of Book. Book returns Rachel and Samuel to their farm in Lancaster County, but as he is about to leave, he passes out from loss of blood as a result of McFee's gunshot and crashes his car into the Lapps' birdhouse. He cannot go to a hospital, as doctors are required to report gunshot wounds to the police, which will lead McFee to find and kill Samuel. Eli Lapp (Jan Rubes), Rachel's fatherin-law, who also lives at the farm, reluctantly agrees to shelter Book in their home for the sake of his grandson and daughter-in-law's safety. Eli recruits an Amish apothecary named Stoltzfus (Frederick Rolf) to treat Book's gunshot wound, using traditional Amish methods to fight against infection. One day later, Book recovers and offers to compensate Eli for housing him by doing farm work. Book has some trouble adjusting at first, such as the early morning risings, but soon adjusts fairly well when he shows his amateur skills in carpentry by repairing Rachel's damaged birdhouse that he accidentally crashed into when he first arrived, and making toys for Samuel. Samuel teaches Book about the inner workings of the farm, such as how it makes running water by way of wheel and the corn silo. Book participates in a celebration with the entire Amish community, a barn raising for a young Amish couple who just married. In order to blend into the local community as best he can, Rachel gives Book some of her husband's old Amish clothes. Despite this, the

Amish are suspicious of who Book is when Eli takes him into town so that he can telephone Carter. Another culture clash occurs when Book surrenders his Model 10 to Rachel after Samuel finds it, forcing Eli to have a serious discussion with Samuel about the Amish way of nonviolence. Samuel admits that since he has seen a man being brutally murdered with his own eyes, he might use violence if himself or his loved ones are threatened by "the bad men". Friction also occurs between Book and the Lapp's neighbor, Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Godunov). Once Rachel became a widow, Hockleitner hoped to court her, but he senses that she is more interested in Book. Hochleitner's instincts prove correct as Rachel and Book begin to show signs of their attraction for each other, which is also noticed by others in the community. One night, while Book repairs the car in the barn with Rachel present, the car radio plays Wonderful World, and he begins to dance with Rachel in the manner of a 1950s sock hop. The two are interrupted by a shocked Eli. Although it was an innocent act by "English" standards, it was an activity in which the Amish do not engage, causing Eli to claim Rachel is showing open disdain for her ways and that she could be shunned by the elders of their community for such behavior. Rachel angrily tells Eli that she did nothing wrong. At another point in the film, Book enters Rachel's room and finds her standing in front of him bare-breasted. In another sign of her growing attraction to Book, she makes no effort to cover herself. Later, when Book goes into town to telephone Carter again, he is informed that Carter has been killed. Enraged, Book calls Schaeffer's private residence (where he cannot be traced), openly calling out Schaeffer on his corruption and stating that he is through with hiding and is going to hunt down Schaeffer and McFee instead. While returning to Eli's farm, Hochleitner is harassed by local punks who defile Amish culture and pacifism. An angry Book then confronts Hochleitner's tormentors, and when one of them harasses him, he strikes back and breaks the nose of one of the punks. The fight becomes the talk of the town, none of them ever having seen the Amish lash out in that way, and even makes its way to the local sheriff. Later, Book tells Eli he is leaving the next day. The news upsets Rachel, who runs out to meet Book in an open field and the two share a passionate kiss. Before Book gets a chance to leave the farm, Fergie, McFee and Schaeffer arrive at the community and threaten Eli and Rachel. Book is in the barn with Samuel and orders Samuel to run to the neighbors for safety. Using Samuel's lessons about the silo, Book tricks Fergie into entering the silo, then releases a cascade of corn which kills Fergie by way of asphyxiation. Book digs through the corn to retrieve Fergie's shotgun, then uses it to shoot McFee dead. Meanwhile, Samuel rings the bell on his farm, alerting their Amish neighbors that help is needed. When a crazed Schaeffer threatens to kill Rachel, Book surrenders to him. At that moment, a large number of Amish arrive at the Lapp farm in response to the bell. Book challenges Schaeffer, pointing out that he will not be able to murder everyone there to witness him and get away with it. Schaeffer realizes that he has lost and allows Book to disarm him. The local police arrive, and take Schaeffer away. As Book prepares to leave, he shares a quiet moment with Samuel, then exchanges a silent, loving gaze with Rachel. Eli bids Book goodbye on his return to Philadelphia by saying, "You

take care out there among them English". As Book drives away from the Lapp farm, he passes Hochleitner, who has presumably come to resume his courtship of Rachel.

[edit] Cast

Harrison Ford as John Book Kelly McGillis as Rachel Lapp Josef Sommer as Schaeffer Lukas Haas as Samuel Lapp Jan Rubes as Eli Lapp Alexander Godunov as Daniel Hochleitner Danny Glover as McFee Brent Jennings as Carter Patti LuPone as Elaine Angus MacInnes as Fergie Frederick Rolf as Stoltzfus Viggo Mortensen as Moses Hochleitner

[edit] Production
Producer Edward S. Feldman, who was in a "first-look" development deal with 20th Century Fox at the time, first received the screenplay for Witness in 1983. Originally entitled Called Home (which is the Amish term for death), it ran 182 pages long, the equivalent of three hours of screen time. The script, which had been circulating in Hollywood for several years, had been inspired by an episode of Gunsmoke William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace had written in the 1970s.[2] Feldman liked the concept but felt too much of the script was devoted to Amish traditions, diluting the thriller aspects of the story. He offered Kelley and Wallace $25,000 for a one-year option and one rewrite, and an additional $225,000 if the film actually was made. They submitted the revised screenplay in less than six weeks, and Feldman delivered it to Fox. Joe Wizan, the studio's head of production, rejected it with the statement that Fox didn't make "rural movies".[2] Feldman sent the screenplay to Harrison Ford's agent Phil Gersh, who contacted the producer four days later and advised him his client was willing to commit to the film. Certain the attachment of a major star would change Wizan's mind, Feldman approached him once again, but Wizan insisted that as much as the studio liked Ford, they still weren't interested in making a "rural movie."[2] Feldman sent the screenplay to numerous studios and was rejected by all of them, until Paramount Pictures finally expressed interest. Feldman's first choice of director was Peter Weir, but he was involved in pre-production work for The Mosquito Coast and passed on the project. John Badham dismissed it as "just another cop movie", and others Feldman approached either were committed to other projects or had no interest. Then, as financial backing for The Mosquito

Coast fell through, Weir became free to direct Witness, which was his first American film. It was imperative filming start immediately, because a Directors Guild of America strike was looming on the horizon.[2] The film was shot on location in Philadelphia and the city and towns of Intercourse, Lancaster, Strasburg and Parkesburg. Local Amish were willing to work as carpenters and electricians but declined to appear on film, so many of the extras actually were Mennonites. Halfway through filming, the title was changed from Called Home to Witness at the behest of Paramount's marketing department, which felt the original title posed too much of a promotional challenge. Principal photography was completed three days before the scheduled DGA strike, which ultimately failed to materialize.[2] There are a few times the dialect of the Pennsylvania Germans, popularly known as Pennsylvania Dutch, is heard in the film. In one scene, during construction of the new barn, a man says to John Book, "Du huschd hott gschofft. Sell waar guud!," which means "You worked hard. That was good!" But more often the Amish characters are heard speaking High German, the standard language of most German-speaking Europeans, which actually is used rarely by the Amish in particular, or Pennsylvania Germans in general.

[edit] Reception
[edit] Critical response
Witness was generally well received by critics and earned eight Academy Award nominations (including Weir's first and Ford's sole nomination to date). Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film four out of four stars, calling it "first of all, an electrifying and poignant love story. Then it is a movie about the choices we make in life and the choices that other people make for us. Only then is it a thrillerone that Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to make." He concluded, "We have lately been getting so many pallid, bloodless little moviesmostly recycled teenage exploitation films made by ambitious young stylists without a thought in their headsthat Witness arrives like a fresh new day. It is a movie about adults, whose lives have dignity and whose choices matter to them. And it is also one hell of a thriller."[3] Vincent Canby of the New York Times said of the film, "It's not really awful, but it's not much fun. It's pretty to look at and it contains a number of good performances, but there is something exhausting about its neat balancing of opposing manners and values One might be made to care about all this if the direction by the talented Australian film maker, Peter Weir were less perfunctory and if the screenplay did not seem so strangely familiar. One follows Witness as if touring one's old hometown, guided by an outsider who refuses to believe that one knows the territory better than he does. There's not a character, an event or a plot twist that one hasn't anticipated long before its arrival, which gives one the feeling of waiting around for people who are always late."[4]

Variety said the film was "at times a gentle, affecting story of star-crossed lovers limited within the fascinating Amish community. Too often, however, this fragile romance is crushed by a thoroughly absurd shoot-em-up, like ketchup poured over a delicate Pennsylvania Dutch dinner."[5] Time Out New York observed, "Powerful, assured, full of beautiful imagery and thankfully devoid of easy moralising, it also offers a performance of surprising skill and sensitivity from Ford."[6] Radio Times called the film "partly a love story and partly a thriller, but mainly a study of cultural collision it's as if the world of Dirty Harry had suddenly stumbled into a canvas by Brueghel." It added, "[I]t's Weir's delicacy of touch that impresses the most. He ably juggles the various elements of the story and makes the violence seem even more shocking when it's played out on the fields of Amish denial."[7] The film was screened out of competition at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.[8]

[edit] Controversy
Although the movie did well at the box office, it was not well received by the Amish communities where it was filmed. A statement released by a law firm associated with the Amish claimed that the portrayal of the Amish in the movie was not accurate. The National Committee For Amish Religious Freedom called for a boycott of the movie soon after its release citing fears that these communities were being "overrun by tourists" as a result of the popularity of the movie, and worried that "the crowding, souvenir-hunting, photographing and trespassing on Amish farmsteads will increase". After the movie was completed, the governor of Pennsylvania at the time, Dick Thornburgh, agreed not to promote the Amish communities as future film sites.

There were satirical references to Witness in a sixth season episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun.

[edit] Box office

The film opened in 876 theaters in the US on February 8, 1985 and grossed $4,539,990 in its opening weekend, ranking #2 behind Beverly Hills Cop. It remained at #2 for the next three weeks and finally topped the charts in its fifth week of release. It eventually earned $68,706,993 in the US.[1]

[edit] Awards and nominations

Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (winner) Academy Award for Best Film Editing (winner) Academy Award for Best Picture (nominee) Academy Award for Best Director (nominee) Academy Award for Best Actor (Harrison Ford, nominee) Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Stan Jolley and John H. Anderson, nominees)

Academy Award for Best Cinematography (John Seale, nominee) Academy Award for Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre, nominee) BAFTA Award for Best Film (nominee) BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay (nominee) BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Harrison Ford, nominee) BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Kelly McGillis, nominee) BAFTA Award for Best Film Music (Maurice Jarre, winner) BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography (John Seale, nominee) BAFTA Award for Best Editing (nominee) Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Drama (nominee) Golden Globe Award for Best Director (nominee) Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay (nominee) Golden Globe Award for Best Actor Motion Picture Drama (Harrison Ford, nominee) Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress Motion Picture (Kelly McGillis, nominee) Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre, nominee) Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film (winner) Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (Harrison Ford, winner) Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay (winner) Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film (nominee) Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (nominee) American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film (winner) Australian Cinematographers Society Award for Cinematographer of the Year (winner) British Society of Cinematographers Award for Best Cinematography (nominee)

[edit] Home media

The film was released on Region 1 DVD on June 29, 1999. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French. The sole bonus feature is an interview with director Peter Weir. The film was released on Region 2 DVD on October 2, 2000. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English, French, German, Italian, Czech, Spanish, and Polish and subtitles in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Danish, Hungarian, Dutch, Finnish, and Croatian. Bonus features include an interview with Weir and the original trailer. A Special Collector's Edition was released on Region 1 DVD on August 23, 2005. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English and Spanish. Bonus features include the five-part documentary Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness, a deleted scene, the original theatrical trailer, and three television ads. The Special Collector's Edition was released on Region 2 DVD on 19 February 2007, with different cover art and more extensive language and audio/subtitle options for European countries.

[edit] References
1. ^ a b "Witness". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/? id=witness.htm. 2. ^ a b c d e Feldman, Edward S. (2005). Tell Me How You Love the Picture. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 180190. ISBN 0312348014. 3. ^ Roger Ebert (February 8, 1985). Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article? AID=/19850208/REVIEWS/502080301/1023. 4. ^ New York Times review (subscription required) 5. ^ "Witness". Variety. December 31, 1984. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117796433.html. 6. ^ "Witness Review". Time Out New York. http://www.timeout.com/film/newyork/reviews/64714/Witness.html. 7. ^ John Ferguson. "Witness review". Radio Times. http://www.radiotimes.com/servlet_film/com.icl.beeb.rtfilms.client.simpleSearchServlet? frn=17783&searchTypeSelect=5. 8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Witness". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festivalcannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/927/year/1985.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 9. ^ Pitsburgh Press. February 16, 1985. http://news.google.com/newspapers? id=h6ccAAAAIBAJ&sjid=GGIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3978,64379.

[edit] External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Witness (1985 film)

Witness at the Internet Movie Database [hide]


Films directed by Peter Weir

1970s 1980s The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) The Last Wave (1977) The Plumber (1979) Gallipoli (1981) The Year of Living Dangerously (1983) Witness (1985) The Mosquito Coast (1986) Dead Poets Society (1989)

1990sGreen Card (1990) Fearless (1993) The Truman Show (1998) 2000sMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) 2010sThe Way Back (2010)

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