Eyewitness (1981)

Eyewitness (1981)


A night janitor, played by William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman), discovers a body during his shift. He didn’t see anything, he didn’t hear anything, he doesn’t know anything. But the janitor is so enamored with an evening news reporter, played by Sigourney Weaver (Alien), that he pretends to know something about the murder in order to spend time with the TV woman. The problem is that everybody, including the killer, begin to believe that the janitor indeed witnessed the crime.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Director Peter Yates and writer Steve Tesich followed up their 1979 sleeper hit, Breaking Away, with this slick urban thriller. Eyewitness suffers, unfortunately, from an identity crisis. It can’t make up its mind what it wants to be: a political thriller, a post-Vietnam-war-angst drama, or a romance-murder-mystery. It’s really a pity because the film has an intriguing premise and a fantastic cast.

The first 30 minutes are the best — this section of the movie is very smooth and very suspenseful. It all looked so good, like a nice tribute to Hitchcock cinema.

At some point, the story starts going topsy-turvy in several different directions. There are too many subplots that distract rather than enhance the narrative. Most of these threads are left unresolved, which is another mark against the movie.

Despite Tesich’s clunky script, this is not a total waste of time. Eyewitness does sport some of my favorite actors from the 1980s. William Hurt is really good and he and Sigourney Weaver have great chemistry.

Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) adds a touch of class to the movie as Weaver’s upper class boyfriend. James Woods (Videodrome) steals a few scenes as Hurt’s hyperactive pal. Steven Hill (TV’s Law & Order) and pre-stardom Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption) play police detectives. Irene Worth (Deathtrap) plays Weaver’s domineering mother. Pamela Reed (The Long Riders) plays Woods’s sister. Kenneth McMillan (Ragtime) plays Hurt’s bitter dad. They are all terrific and they are the main reason this confused thriller doesn’t totally fail.

Eyewitness could have been really great if someone would have used a red pen to cross out most of the subplots that got nothing to do with the main storyline. The murder, and Hurt and his relationship with Weaver, should have been the focus of the movie. The rest isn’t very good. I would love to see a remake — there is a great movie here that’s waiting to come out. Color, 103 minutes, Rated R.

4 responses to “Eyewitness (1981)

  1. I loved this when it came out! William Hurt was my discovery when I was a kid – I fell for him when he was appearing in a PBS drama about the development of NYC around the turn of the 19th/20thc through the interlinking stories of three different classes of people and when I saw this film reviewed in my grandfather’s Time magazine I was so excited to find he was going to be in a movie! I met Peter Yates years later but he wasn’t into talking about any of his films, sadly… Great to have it remembered here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOW! You met Yates? I tend to like his movies. The Dresser, Bullitt, etc. He has made some great films! Anyhow, I love William Hurt — he is one of my all-time favorite actors!


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