“I’m washing my hands, man”: Witness

My final assignment to the film Witness.  In an earlier post I expressed the idea that I may want to watch the film again to give it another shot.  After re-reading this, I now remember exactly why I didn’t like it, and why I won’t be watching it again.  To add to what you’re about to read, I have learned since writing this that I almost never get into films when I don’t like the main character.  That was a major problem for me here.

Because all of this was done for a class, and I had to watch it three times as well as the special features, I own the movie.  Needless to say, I now have a gently used Witness DVD for sale should anyone decide I have terrible taste in movies and would like to buy it from me.

In all seriousness, though, this is not a bad movie.  It’s actually a good movie; I just don’t care for it.  Watch the clip below and tell me that’s not some serious shit.  I’ve seen it at least 7 times, and I still get mini-anxiety attacks for the kid.

Final Connective Paper

Although my connective film of Witness, directed by Peter Weir, has no direct connection to any of the films we watched in class, it does have elements that correlate to ones we did watch.  Witness is most closely related to Elia Kazan’s film Wild River.  Both films establish their universe in the same manner:  showing the tragedy, or the reaction to a tragedy, in a rural setting.  Both films rely on magnificent shots of nature, reaction shots, and little dialogue, yet a lot of strong emotions.  Both have what seem to be two different worlds, one is the hustle and bustle of a city, and the other is the serenity of a more natural state.  Both deal with men who are thrown into these lifestyles that are so unlike their own and have to deal with their situations.  Both male leads are the protagonists of their stories, yet are the antagonists within their settings.  John Book represents everything the Amish hate, while Chuck Glover’s job is to get the Garths to leave their home.  Both of the women they love are very innocent and have to come to terms with the men’s occupations which go against their beliefs.  The two women, though, serve as one of the biggest contrast between the two films.  In Wild River, Carol Garth Baldwin does not put up a big fight when Chuck Glover comes into her life and essentially destroys her home.  She ends up leaving her past to start a new life with him.  In Witness, however, Rachel Lapp’s whole life is her religion, and not even her love for John Book can make her leave what she has.  He leaves, and she stays with her family to clean up the mess he brought to their community.  The other big contrast between the two is that Kazan makes me care about his characters, whereas in Witness, I did not connect with any of them.  I have no idea what it is like to live in an Amish community or be a detective in Philadelphia, and the film did not make me feel as if I do.  I did not feel Rachel or Samuel were really in danger.  I knew Harrison Ford was not going to die, and he would eventually solve the case and get the bad guys.

Another film Witness connected to was Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.  The two films are drastically different, but both have superb scripts.  The scripts are structured differently, but both are faultless in their own way.  Witness is sparse and full of silent moments, but nothing really needs to be –or can be –said.  On the other hand, The Apartment is full of dialogue, a lot of which comes at the audience rather quickly, but absolutely none of the lines are wasted.

The last film I saw a big connection with was In the Heat of the Night.  The musical scores for both were excellent.  In Witness, there was very somber, ethereal organ music accompanying it that fit the Amish community exactly.  In Norman Jewison’s film, I felt Quincy Jones’ music did not exactly apply to this Southern town they were in; however, it was a reflection of the times and had more relevance to the character of Virgil Tibbs and could have been applicable to Philadelphia, which is where he was from.  Overall, though, the music in both gave the films the right feeling.

Having said all of that, I will now say I do not enjoy the film Witness.  When broken down, all of the elements are near perfect.  I recognize and fully appreciate that.  The film does not feel dated at all.  The rising line was great.  I was intrigued the whole time, and they even surprised me by throwing in a twist near the end where his partner is murdered in conjunction with this investigation.  The editing was done in such a way that I was never confused or bored.  The romance was done completely in subtext and visuals.  It is clear to me that all of the characters want something, and through the course of the film those wants change.  The acting was great from almost everyone, especially Harrison Ford.  The fact that John Book left in the end was realistic, and I would not have accepted anything else.  However, there was something missing from the mix for me.  As Weir stated in the DVD commentary, the story really is a western, and that comes through mostly at the end with the shoot-out and the grain silo scenes.  That seems a bit too melodramatic, and it wrapped up the problem too easily:  the good guy shoots or arrests all the bad guys; the end.  Also, the relationship that almost develops between Book and Rachel Lapp was not very convincing.  The two are polar opposites, which should make them perfect matches, but it never seems right.  The idea that the two lust for each other is completely acceptable, but it feels like Weir is trying to make me believe they are in love and I should want them to get together.  The two clearly are not in love, and there is no way a relationship between them could exist.  As for the little boy, Lukas Haas’ acting took me out of the film toward the end.  During the murder scene, his wide-eyed fearful stares were perfect, but that was the full extent of his ability.  In the end, though, the deciding factor as to why the mix does not work is the lack of a memorable moment.  The scene with Book in bed is beautiful, the dancing scene is cute, the scene when he punches that guy in the nose is funny, the grain silo scene is morbid, but they do not stick out in my mind.  I will have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Hitchcock, because after watching the film once, I had no desire to ever see it again.  Watching it two more times did not change my opinion of it.

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