Aren't we all just a little bit fascinated with the Amish?
These are people who have rejected the American government
as well as every technological advancement of the last couple
centuries in favor of those oppressive suits, beards and brimmed
hats -- bonnets for the ladies. Those of us who are slave to
electricity and television, not to mention the utter extravagance
of running water, wonder what these inbred cults could see in
plowing and milking at 4:30 in the morning.
These innate curiosities we all have about Amish people
are what elevates WITNESS from being just an average 80's action
flick. Harrison Ford, Mr. 80's Action Flick himself, plays a police
detective assigned to crack open the murder of a fellow officer. The
only witness to the murder is a little Amish boy (Lukas Haas) who
happened to be hiding in a bus station bathroom stall at the time of
the murder, most likely mesmerized by the flush technology.
Ford drags Haas and his mother (Kelly "Top Gun"
McGillis, in her other movie appearance) to the police station,
making him root through mug shots and lineups. More
importantly, he exposes young Lukas to a world of sin and
corruption which McGillis and her bearded counterparts have been
trying to shelter him from. That's when Haas sees a picture of one
of the force's most respected officers (Danny Glover) and
recognizes him as the killer.
Since, beneath its Amish exterior, this is a typical 80's
action movie, millions of dollars in drugs are involved and the
police corruption runs pretty much throughout the department.
So Ford has to find a place to hide himself and his Amish
witnesses. What better place than Pennsylvania Amish country?
That's when the tables are turned and Ford finds himself a fish out
of water, a fish in an oppressive suit and a bigass brimmed hat.
WITNESS could have been a contrived comedy -- those
were very popular in the 80's -- but it instead tries to paint a
realistic portrait of Amish life. This ends up being a lot funnier
than a sitcom approach, because nothing is more laughable than
life itself. They bring out every Amish stereotype in the book,
even a barn-raising. In this age of political correctness, the Amish
are one of the last constituent groups that are still safe to make fun
of, probably because they won't ever see or hear about what's being
said about them, nor do they care. In their eyes, Billy Graham is a
heathen for owning an electric hair dryer.
The middle half of the movie is the actionless assimilation
of Ford into the Amish community, which is always interesting if
not amusing. Crusty old Eli doesn't like Ford too much, especially
when he finds him dancing to rock music with his daughter
(McGillis). Amish Kelly doesn't compromise herself with Ford
beyond the realm of hungry French kisses, even if she does appear
topless in a shower scene. That's where I really wouldn't have
minded the Puritan approach; McGillis looks just like my high
school Bible teacher. Seeing her make out with Tom Cruise was
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks