Time for Milking

Although Amish groups protested Witness’ depiction of their culture, to an outsider, the script appears to cautiously handles the circumstances to tell unique murder story, fighting for screen time with a romance. It’s engaging, thoughtful, and even softly humorous, at least until the expected gunfire exchange in the final act.

Witness does lose its plot, focusing on detective John Book (Harrison Ford) who’s hiding in Amish country while finding a way to expose internal crime within the police force. As expected, the culture clash disrupts the community, generating fish-out-of-water smiles even as Book settles, while falling for an Amish widow. The murder becomes secondary until Witness needs energy for the finale.

… a downbeat, unusually unhappy ending gives Witness more value

Ford earned his first Oscar nomination for this role, separating the actor from the sci-fi and adventure hero roles that made him a box office draw. Witness opened Ford up to more of these thriller/drama features, from Frantic to Presumed Innocent, and even The Fugitive. Witness plays more leisurely with the material, less interested in theatrical tension and danger, instead focusing on understanding people in a time of crisis.

John Book wears guilt on his face for much of the movie, knowing he brought unwilling Amish into a different world, even endangering them. The simplicity with which the Amish live provides more shelter than the buildings, allowing Book to breathe, recover from wounds, and find a place – socially uncomfortable as it is – within their ranks.

Importantly, Witness doesn’t judge how one chooses to live their life. It’s never mocking or looking down on any personal decisions, and if anything, Book’s adjustment to this simpler life allows him a freedom he’s never known. That includes falling for Rachel (Kelly McGillis), furthering the divide among the Amish who already look toward the outsider with questioning, even worrying eyes.

Witness is a rare script where the romance is not necessarily forbidden (culturally it is, of course) but outright impossible. Book’s feeling for Rachel cannot overcome the divergent lifestyles even if Book shows doubt multiple times. The idea is to root for the momentary happiness, that two people experiencing intense emotional pressure can still find one another and smile, beliefs mattering not. What’s often considered a downbeat, unusually unhappy ending gives Witness more value, that no matter how we live, in a time of crisis, we all share a common moral bond.


Arrow’s presentation uses Dolby Vision, the earthen colors in Witness generally pure, even if the flesh tones push toward a chalky tone. That aside, the lush greenery shown throughout the Amish farmland is breathtaking material. Saturation and vibrancy impress, without losing the natural beauty.

Source material often carries a haze, softer and less defined than the norm on this format, but that’s not a complaint. That dream-like quality doesn’t post a challenge to the encode, with some 80GB+ to work with. Light grain hovers over the frame, texturing Witness naturally. In close, definition can soar, making full use of the available resolution wherever possible. Sharpness and precision impress.

The slightest detection of smearing is noticeable, if inconsistently. It’s enough to diminish the topmost layer of texture most likely, but leaves the rest alone.

A careful boost to the contrast enlivens light sources when in modern civilization, then candlelight elsewhere. The stable, thick shadows do their part, even with time and age fading them slightly; there’s enough depth to sustain Witness.


Interesting choices default to a 5.1 DTS-HD track. In addition, the disc carries two stereo tracks, one mixed for the home market, the other theatrical. Given the better spacing – specifically, the score – on the surround track, that’s a great choice for most beyond the purest of the purists. The distinctly ’80s music is able to hit peak volume without distortion. Dialog resolves cleanly and with only the slightest of age evident.

Stereos perform admirably, the split wide, and directionality captured far better than expected. Separation into the rears happens but sparingly. For instance, a train passing by follows through into the rears.


Historian Jarret Gahan provides commentary. A fresh interview with cinematographer John Seale follows, with a visual essay penned by journalist Staci Layne Wilson afterward. Harrison Ford sits down with critic Bobbie Wygant in a 1985 interview about Ford’s role.

There’s a one hour making-of split into five parts, pulled from older disc releases. Peter Weir chats in a vintage interview. His chat is followed by general EPK materials, a deleted scene, trailer, and stills. Everything is on the UHD itself in addition to the Blu-ray.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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A fun slice of culture clash meets firm police drama in Witness, a unique take on the thriller genre.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 42 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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