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The One-Line Summary: When a recently widowed Amish mother (Kelly McGillis) and her young son Samuel (Lukas Haas) travel by train through Pennsylvania, the boy witnesses a crime, leading to an investigation and protection detail where Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) goes undercover in the Amish community, developing a powerful relationship with the people, but especially the woman.
The Two-Line Blurb: Harrison Ford was a bonafide mega-star in the 1980s sitting on not one but two of the biggest movie franchises in cinema history (Star Wars and Indiana Jones), but he didn’t let that stop him from exploring smaller roles that gave him opportunities to expand his craft, such as The Mosquito Coast, Frantic, and Blade Runner. With Witness, he brought great depth to a challenging character that becomes deeply involved with a world he knows nothing about, earning his only Academy Award nomination to date, but one well-deserved.
The Three-Line Set-up: Rachel Lapp (McGillis) is in mourning and going to her sister’s home across the state with her 8-year-old son who has never been outside the Amish country and is enthralled with the outside world and how different it is from his home. At a stop in Philadelphia, he uses the station restroom and while in the stall, witnesses two men kill a third. Sam and Rachel go to the police station to file the report, and while Book (Ford), the investigating officer is on the phone, Samuel waders away.
The Four-Line Moment: The room is a cacophony of noise and huge men bustling about as we follow little Samuel around the room, director Peter Weir brilliantly keeping the camera close and at his eye level so we feel the sense of space and intimidation. The boy explores the room, meandering about as cops smile and pat his head, where he eventually ends up in front of a trophy case filled with paraphernalia and a newspaper clipping of Lt. James McFee (Danny Glover), a narcotics officer being honored for his role in a youth project. Thing is, McFee is the man the boy saw from inside the bathroom stall and that revelation instantly terrifies him. When Book notices the child, he moves to the boy’s side and without a word spoken, understands exactly what is happening.
The Five-Word Review: Culture. Thrills. Romance. Barn-Building.