Witness (1985)

Witness

Witness Review

Witness is a 1985 thriller drama film directed by Peter Weir and starring Harrison Ford. It was nominated for incredible eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and it deserved it as it is so surprisingly good.

It is about a detective who must protect a young Amish boy and his mother after the boy becomes a witness of a murder. This film is very odd. And in its concept and especially execution it feels as if you are watching two different movies. Witness’s genre mix of thriller and drama does not mash well, but is still so unique and different that I enjoyed it very much. The first and the last act are both in the thriller genre. But the whole long second act is pure drama. It is an interesting concept and it gives the movie some heart as well as a brain. Let me explain. By having that Amish drama, Witness suddenly has a romance to go with it as well. And although it is predictable and expected, it is still moving and well realized. But it succeeds even more on the intellectual level as it showcases a great understanding of both cultures and although it presents Amish as somewhat better people, it still strikes a balance in the comparison between the two in showcasing the different lifestyles and moral codes. It really is a fascinating subject matter, very authentic as well, but thankfully explored incredibly well.

But Witness succeeds as a thriller as well and that is all due to its beginning as the ending I did not appreciate as much. But it starts with a bang! The first fifteen minutes or so with the murder happening is so pulse-pounding and so thrilling that it is incredible to behold. It is also instantly recognizable and the most memorable and the finest part of the whole movie, the one that is executed with the most style and power. It is something that Hitchcock would have in his films – an unexpected situation filled with thrills and intense moments, but with powerful execution as well.

Now, the characters are also surprisingly well developed for a thriller film. John Book is a fine protagonist, still somewhat too heroic, but nevertheless well portrayed and likable, which is rare for Harrison Ford characters. Rachel Lapp is also a great character and the romance between the two is wonderful and she is realistically portrayed, albeit with her beauty too emphasized. Samuel is also quite good as a kid character and the other Amish people are well realized and the villains are quite solid.

The acting is really good. This is Harrison Ford’s finest performance without a doubt and the only time he played a real, likable character that you can root for. And although you could still see the acting at certain times, he still gave a mostly good performance that is easily his best as he was never a particularly good actor. Kelly McGillis is also stupendous and she gave such a great and nuanced performance.

The directing from Peter Weir is really good and the film is very well shot and wonderfully executed. The score is also solid with at times thrilling results. And for once I liked the slow-motion sequences as they are displayed at just the right moments to increase tension. The movie is very original in its genre mix and it is also very emotional and it does have a heart and it does have something to say thanks to a smart screenplay. The humor is rare, but once there, it is quite good. And the movie, although predictable and familiar in some plot points, is still riveting from start to finish and very realistic in approach. Apart from one prolonged sequence in the Amish part that was very unnecessary, the editing is regardless superb and it is deftly paced and never boring and thankfully never too frenetic.

I agree with its Oscars. It thoroughly deserved Best Editing and most importantly Best Original Screenplay as this is the rare thriller that is very original and authentic in its story, but also so clever. As for Best Actor nomination, I wouldn’t go so far, but it did deserve its technical nominations as well as Best Picture and Best Director nods. It really is a superb thriller and one of the best from the eighties without a doubt.

Witness‘s genre mix of thriller and drama is definitely original and even audacious even if at times it doesn’t quite work. But it is still such a well crafted story, for once meaningful and smart, having both romance and drama, but still having terrific thriller elements, especially in the pulse-pounding and so memorable beginning. It is a thrilling, but emotional film that also has something to say. It is incredibly well executed, well directed, well acted, but above all well paced and riveting from start to finish. It is one of the best 1980s thrillers without a doubt.

+ Phenomenal screenplay.

+ Great acting.

+ Excellent directing, editing and a technically deft film.

+ Smart themes.

+ Memorable thrills.

+ Authentic mix of genres.

– The mix doesn’t always work, seems like two different movies

– Editing is good apart from one overlong sequence.

– It is predictable and familiar at certain points.

For:

– Thriller as well as drama fans.

– Harrison Ford fans.

Not for:

– Usual thriller fans who expect an all-out thriller.

My Rating – 4.5

Share

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of The Hunter

The Night of The Hunter Review

The Night of The Hunter is a 1955 thriller horror film directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish. In a strong year as is 1955, it is one of the best films and that is saying a lot.

To plot revolves around a reverend who is a serial killer. He charms the widow of an executed man who hid his money but only told the kids where. The reverend is then after the children to find the money. It is a well written story and although a bit too simplistic, it is still executed perfectly. The beginning is fantastic as it instantly made me interested in the story and the ending is extremely satisfying and so heartwarming. And the rest of the picture is very good as well with exciting chase/horror sequences and excellent introduction of a new family for the kids later on. If I have one problem with the story, it is that it’s a bit too simplistic as I said before, but also somewhat dragged in the first act and somewhat sensational and too much dressed with blockbuster clothing later on. That is what is the most interesting thing about  it is so advanced for its time incorporating action and chase that would be a standard decades later. It is very groundbreaking, admittedly for better and for worse.

I like the characters, I found them all really well developed and well written. Reverend Harry Powell can be a bit too vilified, but he is still a big presence with his unpredictable nature and very dangerous behavior. The kids are really good, John’s devotion to his late father is so endearing to watch and his nervous breakdown is the end is so heartbreaking. As for Pearl, I found it frustrating that she wasn’t as loyal as her brother was, but she is way too young so it is understandable. And I liked Willa for that little screen time she got. She is a typical female character for the time, but still a realistic character and a deeply tragic figure. Uncle Birdie is a likable supporting character and although Rachel’s children are never given anything to do, Ruby is still a very well written character with realistic and touching problems. And although at first that story came out of nowhere, it still blended into the film more smoothly as it went on.

Speaking of Rachel, she is without a doubt my favorite character here. So good. She is a likable, grounded character, but a good-natured old woman above all who helps where she can. And I like her behavior and personality with telling the stories to the kids and also being somewhat tough with them, but still gentle in the end. She was brought to life beautifully by wonderful Lillian Gish. She completely took me by surprise when I figured out it was her as she was still beautiful as such an old age. But she surprised me with giving such a powerhouse performance in a sound film. I did not expect that at all and was pleasantly surprised. She is the standout here, so powerful and this is her best performance in my opinion after ‘Way Down East‘. And all of the other performances are very good with of course Robert Mitchum doing a great job in his role. He was at times a bit theatrical for my taste, but this is such a role so it was needed and his deep voice and his dangerous look in the eyes perfectly suited this role. He is such a presence, stealing every scene he is in.

The Night of the Hunter shines the most at the technical level. Oh my God, what a stunningly beautiful film this is! This is probably the best, or at least one of the best, cinematography ever in a film, so polished and remarkable. The natural photography with night scenery and animal and river imagery is beautiful to behold. The sequences on the river are almost poetic how good they are filmed. And those lift this film to the highest levels. But Charles Laughton is a revelation here for such a good actor to also show that he can be a good director in his debut film is unprecedented. It is a shame that he never directed another film as he is so professional and visionary here. I like his approach with artistic imagery and silent scenes definitely paying an homage to older silent movies which I found really interesting and perfectly executed. The score is also good, I like the inclusion of gospel music and I like how the tone of the film is so polished, ranging from dramatic, horrific to warm. It is also a tightly-edited little film and although the first half is inferior to the second, this is still a very well paced film with just the right amount of running time. It is also groundbreaking in its approach and dark tone and it is very authentic both technically and in terms of storytelling. And the movie is not only smart, but also incredibly heartwarming and touching.

With simply outstanding cinematography that is one of the best in film history, beautiful scenery, groundbreaking approach with dark tone and story, excellent tone ranging from thrilling and dangerous to heartwarming and touching, terrific characters, absolutely amazing directorial work from Charles Laughton and powerhouse performances from excellent Robert Mitchum and wonderful Lillian Gish who absolutely shines in one of her later roles, The Night of the Hunter has some too over-the-top scenes, too simplistic story and the first half is inferior to the second, but it is also a beautiful homage to silent movies, a visual masterpiece and one of the finest thrillers of the time as well as one of the best directorial debuts and one of the best-looking films of all time.

My Rating – 4,5

Share

Memento (2000)

Memento

Memento Review

Memento is a 2000 psychological thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Guy Pearce in the lead role. It is cited as one of the director’s best films and also one of the best overall of the decade.

It is about a man who suffers from amnesia after the intruders attacked his wife and he hit the head. He has to find and kill the murderer of his wife, but in order to do that, he writes the clues on his body as a reminder because of his condition. The movie is presented in an unusual order, it starts with the ending and then goes backwards to the beginning. But it also has some black-and-white sequences which are shown in chronological order. It is of course very inventive and influential in this approach. Very original, but also very well executed. The editing here is remarkable with each and every scene connected perfectly and deftly edited which was no easy task. And I like its pacing which is unusually slow for a modern thriller which is why Memento can also be considered a neo-noir.

I also like the beginning and the whole first half, but the resolution I was a not a fan of as it is too convoluted and difficult to understand. Yes, the whole movie is thematically rich with themes ranging from memory loss to very well dealt with theme of a man lost in time who has to find a way to deal with what he has done and the death of his wife. The movie is very smart and it is a drama that definitely evokes poignancy but that is a double-edged sword as it is powerful on paper but not so much in execution. I am talking about Memento’s emotional investment which is non-existent and a major problem the movie never overcomes. This is such a powerful and deeply sad story that needed much more emotion. But it is somehow cold and devoid of heartwarming sequences. I thought it should have been way too heartbreaking and hard-hitting. And that way it would have been an amazing film, but without it, it ends up being a good film and an interesting experience above anything else.

The characters are solidly developed. Leonard is naturally the highlight here as you can sense his loss and hopelessness. Both Natalie and Teddy are also memorable and well realized. The performances are okay, but nothing to write home about. The supporting characters are well acted, but Guy Pearce I was never a big fan of here. He fits the role, but he gave such a forgettable and not that good performance in a role that is essential for the movie. He isn’t bad, but not particularly good either.

The score is good as is the cinematography and of course the directing from Nolan. And the tone is well done. The movie is original in structure, but also quite authentic in its story which is even more amazing. I also liked the dialogue and I found it quite sophisticated. It is emotionally distant, but very grounded in approach and filled with excellent attention to detail which is fitting for the movie’s puzzling narrative and plot. And the ending and the overall movie is so authentic and memorable that definitely sticks with you and is so phenomenally executed which is why it is that influential. And the unpredictability factor definitely helps the film.

Memento has such an intriguing and very well executed structure with deft editing, terrific pacing and atmosphere, good characters and engaging and thematically rich story, but that story can get too convoluted, especially in the ending, and the movie is emotionally very cold which is unfortunate as the story needed it. It is an intriguing and very original film, but because it is distant and too convoluted, it never achieves the masterpiece status and it becomes more of an interesting experience than a truly powerful movie.

My Rating – 4

 

Share