Harrison Ford is John Book, a Philly cop called in to investigate the murder of a cop at a train station. The only witness to the crime is a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) travelling with his mother (Kelly McGillis). Although distrustful of outsiders, the mother and boy co-operate with Book and the latter identifies an African-American narcotics officer (Danny Glover) as the killer. Book soon realises the danger the boy is in and attempts to hide them, eventually settling on taking them back home to Amish territory, where seemingly no one would dare enter. He also comes to realise that the amount of people he can trust is much smaller than he first thought. Josef Sommer plays Book’s superior officer and trusted friend/mentor, Brent Jennings is Book’s partner, Alexander Godunov (in his English-language debut) and a young-ish Viggo Mortensen (in his screen debut) play Amish men, with Jan Rubes as McGillis’ stern and untrusting father. That’s Timothy Carhart as the cop getting bumped off early on in the film.
I’d forgotten just how good this 1985 crime-drama from Aussie director Peter Weir (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”, “Gallipoli”, “The Truman Show”) is. The plot isn’t terribly complex, and I have a few character issues with it, but this is damn good stuff, possibly a minor classic. An Oscar-nominated Harrison Ford gives one of his best-ever performances, the Oscar-nominated synth score by Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Train”, “Ghost”) is excellent, and cinematographer John Seale (“Gallipoli”, “The Hitcher”, “Gorillas in the Mist”) delivers top-notch work.
I found Kelly McGillis’ performance not quite believable to be honest. Even for an Amish woman who might be curious about what she’s been missing, she seems a tad too bold and wilful to convince in the part and way too old to be on rumspringa. But hey, how many Amish people do I know? Zero. I do know, however, that despite being a terrifically underrated character actor, Josef Sommer’s character proves far too clichéd and predictable. The game is given away by his first second on screen, and I don’t think it’s the actor’s fault entirely. Other than that, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this one.
It’s a pretty terrific piece of filmmaking right down to the ending that gets it as right as possible. It’s not a downbeat ending or anything, but a happier ending than this one just wouldn’t work, so I’m glad Weir and Oscar-winning screenwriters Earl W. Wallace (otherwise a minor TV writer) and William Kelley (a veteran of TV who only had one more credit after this, despite not passing away until 2003) resist the temptation to go for cliché there.
Young Lukas Haas is excellent in support (Just watch him in the murder scene at the train station. A remarkable talent for someone so young), as is a villainous Danny Glover, pre-“Lethal Weapon”. The late Alexander Godunov might seem strange casting as a smiling but cautious Amish person, but he’s actually pretty decent in the role, as is Jan Rubes playing essentially the Amish version of the Hassidic elder he later played in Sidney Lumet’s terrible rip-off “A Stranger Among Us”. I must admit, though, that Godunov can’t help looking like he wants to break someone’s skull, squish their brains and churn it like butter. He’s just got that look about him, it was his lot in life. The Amish characters on the whole aren’t free of stereotype, but are presented in much less of a clichéd manner than in other films with Amish characters you may have seen.
Apparently the script is highly thought of due to its simple but effective structure, and it’s certainly a pretty well-written film, if perhaps not quite Oscar-worthy in my view (And that goes for its Best Picture win as well). I’m so glad I revisited this one, I only wish I had done so sooner, because it’s a really entertaining film.