I think Harrison Ford made this movie to move away from the mega blockbuster adventures of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, which had been four of his last five films (the fifth being another SF adventure, Blade Runner), to show he had more acting chops in him than could be expressed with a bullwhip or a laser blaster. So he chose this terrific script by Earl W. Wallace and William Kelly, directed by the great Australian Peter Weir, who has only directed thirteen films, but without a stinker in the bunch. I met Mr. Weir, along with Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt, when I attended the premier on the MGM/UA lot of The Year of Living Dangerously.
He does very well here, in this story of a cop wounded by bad cops, forced to seek refuge in a community of Amish people. He is also protecting a young boy, Lukas Haas, who has witnessed a murder by the bad cops. I’ve never been to “Pennsylvania Dutch” country, where traffic has to accommodate the horse-drawn buggies of the Amish, but I did have a friend, the actor Peter Brocco, who was of that ethnic origin, though not an Anabaptist himself. The last thing I would want to do is lead a simple life among them, but I did find the barn-raising scene quite moving. And at the last, when the bad cops find the fugitive, I realized that “witness” was used in more than one sense. The people gather passively around the last cop, who finally realizes that he can’t kill all of them, and surrenders.
Odd personal anecdote: For a time some years ago I used to have some long late-night phone conversations with Tom Clancy, the man who gave me one of the best cover blurbs anyone could hope for from a best-selling author: “John Varley is the best writer in America!” Thanks, Tom! Anyway, I was surprised to learn that he was angry that Harrison Ford had been cast as Jack Ryan in the film of Tom’s Patriot Games. I asked him why? He said it was because he thought that Ford should not have driven away from Kelly McGillis at the end, leaving her to the Amish man played by Alexander Godunov (who was actually a defecting Russian ballet dancer; go figure). The only way I could figure that one out was maybe Tom thought Ford should have used his influence to demand a re-write, with a “happy” ending. I didn’t press him on the matter. I thought the ending was just right. Bittersweet, but right.