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Harrison Ford returns in agreeable Witness

Witness, starring Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis and Lukas Haas, directed by Peter Weir, A Paramount Picture, opening today at the Sack Cheri. Rated R.

If you can stand the first twenty minutes of improbabilities, you'll probably end up enjoying Witness, Peter Weir's new film starring the ever-popular Harrison Ford.

Witness starts off as a hard-core police movie when Samuel Lapp (Lukas Haas), an eight-year old Amish boy from Lancaster, witnesses a murder in a men's room while passing through Philadelphia with his mother.

The plot becomes more intricate when the investigating officer of the Philadelphia Police Department, John Book (Harrison Ford), finds that he must rely on the hospitality of the Pennsylvania Amish while he recovers in Lancaster from a gunshot wound.

While Book recovers, he predictably falls in love with his host, Samuel's mother, Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis). Rachel's husband has recently passed away (it was the opening scene of the movie). As the movie progresses, Rachel becomes increasingly interested in Book. As their feelings develop romantically, the ultra-conservative Amish community begins to look at the couple with assuming and unapproving eyes. Their cohabitance is unacceptable.

This is the heart of Witness: an examination of the Pennsylvania Amish through the eyes of an outsider suddenly thrust into their midst. As the time comes for Book to leave, emotions flow and the outcome is anything but predictable. While the murder and resulting activities account for a lot of the action, the real purpose of this movie is the expos'e.

Witness uses the same formula as the NBC mini-series Shogun, and to a lesser extent the recent A Passage to India. In these movies, a sick person is flung into a society alien to both the character and the audience. The inevitable convalescence experienced in a foreign community by the sick protagonist provides an intimate setting for the audience to discover the new society.

By far the best performance in Witness is McGillis' portrayal of Rachel Lapp. She is believable, moving, captivating, reserved and enticing all at the same time. This new actress has a lot of potential, and I hope we'll be seeing more of her in the fall.

The picture was filmed entirely on location in Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While the shots in Philly are less than flattering, the photography of Lancaster county is simply breathtaking. The soundtrack is equally moving, although it occasionally comes in at just the wrong moment.

As Harrison Ford's first serious film in recent memory (recent memory going back to 1976 and Star Wars), Witness misses a few beats. It does not always integrate its elements of action, suspense, humor and drama. But it can more than hold its own against the other films that are presently showing. If you have the time, treat yourself and witness Witness.

Simson L. Garfinkel