Eyewitness (1981)

Eyewitness (1981)

“Whoever killed Long is a hero in my book.”

A janitor (William Hurt) stumbles upon the murdered body of a Vietnamese businessman in his office building, and hopes that his “privileged information” will give him access to a beautiful television journalist (Sigourney Weaver) he’s had a crush on for years.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Christopher Plummer Films
  • James Woods Films
  • Journalists
  • Murder Mystery
  • Obsessive Fans
  • Sigourney Weaver Films
  • William Hurt Films

What does an underground movement to smuggle Jews out of communist Russia have to do with obsessive fans, Vietnam vets, horses, motorcycles, and a hated Asian businessman who’s found by a janitor late one night with a telephone cord wrapped tightly around his neck? Screenwriter Steve Tesich — who also wrote the script for director Peter Yates’ highly regarded cult film, Breaking Away (1979) — manages to weave these seemingly disparate plot elements into a most unusual “murder mystery” thriller, one which unfolds in completely unanticipated ways. What’s most refreshing about Tesich’s script (in which red herrings abound) is its character-driven focus: as the movie progresses, we learn more and more about each of the characters, who are gradually revealed to be more complex and nuanced than we originally thought. Indeed, it’s difficult to say too much about Eyewitness without giving away spoilers of one kind or another, given that so much of what happens exposes new character motivations. Young Hurt and Weaver are both excellent:

… as is the cast of supporting players — including Christopher Plummer as Weaver’s pro-Israel boyfriend:

… James Woods as Hurt’s co-worker and friend:

… and Pamela Reed as Hurt’s long-time girlfriend:

Meanwhile, the final climactic scene in a stable is most creatively staged.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • William Hurt as Daryll Deever
  • Sigourney Weaver as Tony
  • Steve Tesich’s character-driven screenplay

Must See?
No, but it’s a good, unusual little thriller, and worth seeing once. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Eyewitness (1981)

  1. Not a must. Ultimately, not all that satisfying, actually.

    I do recall seeing this not long after it was made – probably on video (remember VHS?). Seeing it again…I remembered absolutely nothing about it. Nothing. It all seemed new. Which, to me at least, makes it – well, not all that memorable.

    Did no one involved think to do anything about the title? The fact that Hurt’s eye witnesses nothing? As is pointed out here, the Asian businessman is “found”. But the noticeable, distracting issues don’t stop there. Though the character-driven aspect is commendable, much of the film does not come off as all that believable (i.e., the lengths a certain major character will go to to protect himself, etc.). Hurt’s lovesick puppy attitude towards Weaver borders on icky. To me, the dialogue is a marriage of what rings true and what doesn’t.

    Certain touches are nice, though:
    – Weaver thrusting herself from the car just after she’s been abducted; shows genuine spunk.
    – the scene in which Hurt and Reed reveal they are not in love with each other and both are relieved to hear it.
    – Hurt’s relationship with his dog.

    The film was produced well, looks good, and is well directed by Yates. You just don’t come away with much of anything.

    This appears to be one of those projects that got a greenlight due to timing. Tesich had just received an Oscar for ‘Breaking Away’, which Yates directed and which proved to be a common-man surprise hit. Small doubt there was then attraction for Weaver (who had just made a hit with ‘Alien’) and Hurt (fresh off a strong appearance in ‘Altered States’ and about to reveal a star-making turn in ‘Body Heat’) to be attached to something that had a high-profile air. In fact, a number of very good NY actors signed on as well. I practically sighed thinking of all of these wonderful actors together when I watched the opening credits.

    Unfortunately, all comes to very little. Actually, the one I think comes off best here is Pamela Reed. Though given way too little to do, she makes the most of it.

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