Last week thousands of our readers beat back the quarantine blues by joining in The Inquirer’s impromptu One Movie, One Philadelphia initiative, where we recommend a movie to watch over the weekend, and ask you to weigh in.
We started with Rocky, and most readers suggested other Philly-centered sports movies as followups for Week 2 — lots of votes for Invincible and Silver Linings Playbook. But let’s save those for later when we’re even more sports-thirsty, the way we’re rationing the booze.
For this week, we’ll stick with Philly-shot movies but vary the pitch by asking you to watch and discuss a great and underrated movie filmed here – Witness, starring Harrison Ford.
This 1985 Paramount Pictures release has some soon-to-be marquee names, too: Danny Glover, playing a detective two years before Lethal Weapon, Kelly McGillis as Ford’s love interest, a year before Top Gun with Tom Cruise.
Witness is easy to find on streaming. And who doesn’t need a good community barn-raising scene right now? Watch it anytime this weekend, and share your thoughts here in the comments section. We’ll publish the best ones Monday.
I had a chance to talk to Ford about the movie a few weeks ago, when he was doing press for The Call of the Wild (just rushed to streaming by 20 Century Fox, to give families something to watch this weekend during lockdown).
Ford remembers the shoot well, and has fond memories of the production — still the only one (!) for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Ford plays homicide investigator John Book, and the actor spent a few weeks here with a real investigator, learning the ropes on ride-alongs and encountering situations that ended up added to the script (aspects of the Happy Valley bar scene).
Ford said he and Aussie director Peter Weir worked much of what they discovered in Philadelphia and Lancaster County into the movie, about an Amish boy (Lukas Haas) who witnesses a murder in 30th Street Station, and is thereafter protected by Book against crooked cops.
Weir makes wonderful use of found objects. The Walker Kirtland Hancock Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial statue at the train station, an ascending angel, is used as clever foreshadowing, and invokes the movie’s spiritual themes.
These are worth talking about. What are implications of the character’s name – John Book? What are the multiple meanings of the title as they unfold in the course of the story?
More questions for you:
Is this really Ford’s best performance — or was he just as good in his other and mostly forgotten collaboration with Weir, Mosquito Coast?
How great was that chemistry between Ford and McGillis, and was it better than the Tom Cruise/McGillis heat generated a year later in Top Gun?
Who was more convincing as an Amish farmer — Alexander Godunov or (in one of his first roles) Viggo Mortensen?
Watch from home anytime this weekend, and add your comments before midnight Sunday.