Directed by Peter Weir
Cinematography by John Seale
For this week’s edition of The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot, we were asked to pick our favorite shot from the film Witness. I only watched it for the first time a couple years ago, so I was happy to revisit it again for this occasion. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you go watch it on Netflix as soon as possible, it’s a great slow burn of a thriller balanced effectively with romance. The film’s cinematography is really incredible, and as you’ll see it was hard for me to highlight only one shot.
These shots are more of an excuse to praise Harrison Ford’s performance. I love him most for his iconic portrayals as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, but his work in Witness comes very close. In the film, he plays John Book, a Philadelphia police detective protecting a young Amish boy named Samuel, who becomes a target after witnessing a murder. Book is similar to Ford’s other tough guy roles, but here the actor shows a more vulnerable side than we’re used to seeing. It’s easily his best performance, and I’m glad he earned an Oscar nomination for it (his only one to date). Also, I don’t think Ford has ever been more charming than in this scene.
In protecting Samuel and his family from harm, Book has to go undercover and blend in with their Amish community. Their neighbors are initially reluctant to accept him into the community, but Book’s relationship with them grows as he works alongside them, and they especially respect him for his carpentry skills (a small nod to Ford being a carpenter before becoming an actor). In this shot, he and the Amish men are getting ready to build a new barn. Book certainly looks the part and has been able to adjust to his new surroundings, but it’s apparent he’s still not quite in his element.
Before I go into my pick for best shot, I just want to include a few more honorable mentions, specifically from the film’s barn raising scene. The cinematography in this whole sequence is breathtaking.
Out of all the shots from the barn raising scene, this one stunned me the most. It’s a beautiful snapshot of the Amish lifestyle, showing everyone in the community working together to create something of purpose for one of their newlywed couples. The scenes in the Amish countryside are set with a gorgeous backdrop of a clear sky, something that Book doesn’t see often living in Philadelphia, where the streets are dirtier and more dangerous. Though the Amish live in rural conditions, their setting has a cleanliness to it that’s missing from Book’s life as a police detective, where it’s revealed he’s working among corrupt cops. The Amish don’t have hidden agendas like the people Book often comes across; their intentions are clear and out in the open.
Be sure to check out what others have chosen as their best shot from Witness here!