Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: Witness

By Sati. Tuesday, April 12, 2016 ,
I wrote about Witness and Harrison Ford's great work in it not that long ago. The film is truly beautiful, seductive and ethereal. It is gorgeously shot by John Seale, who did last year's amazing cinematography for "Mad Max: Fury Road". Witness has so many gorgeous and striking shots, loaded with meaning - like the shot of Rachel's bonnet after she takes it off (symbolizing her choice that sadly gets a lot of its power taken away by the film's ending).

But there is one particular shot in the film that shows something I wanted to write about:
Harrison Ford usually plays invincible men. Han Solo (let's forget about The Force Awakens for a second, no, for all of our sakes let's all forget about that one particular scene forever), Jack Ryan, Dr Richard Kimble, Rick Deckard, Indiana Jones - he is the hero. He will prevail in the end. And he does just that in Witness but it is preceded by what is perhaps the most impressive moment of Ford's career - when the men who are after his character, John Book, get to the countryside where he has been hiding and their leader puts a gun to Rachel's head. And John decides to say no to violence, raises his hands and pleads for Rachel life.

See, if it was any other Harrison Ford movie I would expect John to do something physical to save the girl - Indiana Jones would use his whip, Han Solo would use his blaster, Jack Ryan would use his impressive combat skills. And John, a cop, could use his fists too. But director Peter Weir does something that really allows Ford to show how talented he is - he lets him show who his character is inside. John uses his words instead of his fists, even though earlier in the movie his response to confrontation was always through violence. This time he uses reason, he tries to appeal to the the compassion of a man who may kill him and others. He raises his hands, he gets out and asks the man if he is willing to kill all the innocent people there to cover up his own sins.

Ford is so sincere and vulnerable in this scene those of you who only saw him in his iconic action films will be astonished he can act like that. I'm always surprised by that criticism, that he is one of those actors who are always the same and put in almost no effort - the charm, charisma and the ability to create a heroic character, one that is noble and good but not boring and one that the audience roots for is not an easy task. It does take talent and if you don't believe me look no further than Henry Cavill as Superman - this is what happens when someone who has no talent, charm or charisma is given the role of a good guy. Good guy who is not a colorful, violent, wise-cracking villain. Good guy who you root for. I don't think anyone plays character like this better than Ford and that movie is one of the best examples of that, but like too few others it also allows Ford and the audience to look beneath the charm and strong exterior and find the true heart of the person he is playing.

(for TheFilmExperience HWYBS series)

18 comments:

  1. This is such a cool idea, and an excellent post.

    Honestly, I haven't seen Witness since I saw it theatrically as a six year-old (yeah, taking kids to inappropriate movies for their age is a thing we do in my family), but I remember my parents being upset by it. Anyway, after reading this analysis of Ford's character and performance, I definitely want to revisit it.

    It's true what you say, Ford could easily get by on charisma alone, but there is plenty of evidence of his chops to support all that screen-burning charm.

    And yes, let us all forget what happened in TFA. I'm hoping Ep VIII lets us know that that entire scene was actually Chewbacca having a nightmare.

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    1. I really hope so because so far I am planning on not even seeing the next one theatrically as a sign of protest :/

      And yes, watch Witness again!

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  2. Great analysis on Ford and his character in Witness, it's perfectly exemplified by the shot you chose.

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  3. I love this. we both ended up writing about Harrison Ford's impressive work. I also love this moment you write about. it's such a great "sequel" if you will to that fascinating seen where the Grandpa and The Witness stare at a gun and its bullets and talk about pacifism.

    hard to imagine this movie existing today

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    1. Loved your post! And I'm so glad you decided to feature this movie in your series - it's so relevant to this day and it's such a wonderful movie. Hope that people will see it thanks to HMWYBS

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  4. Great read. I need to see more Ford movies myself, have you seen Frantic? Its a later-day Polanski movie, its actually not -that- bad. My favourite of his is tho The Conversation, but you've written so much about Witness I feel I need to see it.

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    1. Frantic is fantastic, not just because of Ford looking divine in it :) Amazing atmosphere in that one. I have yet to see The Conversation

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    2. I haven't read much love for Frantic, that's cool that you dig it. Great atmosphere indeed.

      The Conversation has a real young Harrison, its from '74 or '76. I bet you'd love it ;);)

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    3. Yeah I heard a lot of good about that movie and Hackman's work in that. I have that on DVD so all I need to do is find the time to watch it :)

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  5. That is one of my favorite moments as it adds so much into who the character is and why Book realize what he had to do where he would back out but also reveal that the man who was about to kill Rachel is in a situation that he can't get out of. Ford was robbed of his Oscar. For the fact that he is seen as invincible heroes, here is Ford being a man and shows that there is so much to him and he needs an overdue Oscar.

    I'm still bummed that he never got that lead role in Jacques Demy's Model Shop back in the 1960s as Demy wanted him but the studio gave him Gary Lockwood which Demy wasn't happy about. Ford was quite sad about that as well.

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    1. It's really such a shame that the academy didn't show him more love during his love career. And not even a honorary yet! This is insane!

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  6. Lovely pick for best shot. I really need to watch Witness, it's been a blind spot for me for so long. I'm so pleased to hear from you and lots of other people that it really does manage to be both a crime thriller and a love story.

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    1. Thank you! Oh it's a wonderful movie. It's starts as thriller but then it becomes something very poetic and profound. Definitely worth seeing!

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  7. Love this! Ford so often gets little to no respect as an actor, but he's SO GOOD in many things, especially Witness. What I also love about this moment is how they were both shouting crazily at each other/over each other, which got a laugh from me at first but is probably much closer to how a situation so fraught would go down in real life.

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    1. Yeah it erupts with so much anger and then he just lowers his weapon and takes a completely different approach. Such an amazing scene

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  8. It's true he plays a lot of invincible men, but I love LOVE him in his more vulnerable roles. This is a great example and also Regarding Henry and even the recent one, Age of Adaline. He's got such a vulnerability that's rarely tapped on screen, but he's certainly convincing as a regular guy, too. Very true he makes good guys who are easy to root for and that certainly takes charisma AND talent.

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    1. Another one is The Fugitive - what a beautiful balance there between him being the regular action hero protagonist and a heartbroken husband who lost his wife

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