Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Steve Tesich
Starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer, James Woods
In memory of Peter Yates (1929-2011)
Peter Yates is best known to the moviegoing public as the director of Bullitt, famous for the best car chase ever put on film. And Yates's best film is the classic Breaking Away, one of the greatest sports films of all time. I had considered talking about Breaking Away after hearing of his death the other day, but I remembered a lesser-known film of his that, while not up to that level, is still an interesting thriller with some great twists.
Eyewitness focuses on Harold Deever (William Hurt), a janitor with a fixation on a local news reporter, Toni Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver). He tapes her broadcasts each day and clearly obsesses about her. When there's a murder in the building where Deever works, Sokolow is on the story. To get a chance to talk to her, he pretends he knows something about the death. Sokolow senses a big story and spends time with Deever to find out what he knows. But the real killer also begins to believe that Deever knows something -- and has to take action.
Yates was working once again with Steve Tesich, his screenwriter for Breaking Away.* He took a couple of unfinished scripts and, on Yates's suggestion, came up with Eyewitness. It was quite a departure for him -- he preferred writing about character, not a strong plot-driven story. But one of the things that makes the film work is that the characters are more than your thriller stereotypes. They have quirks and depths which, while nothing like those portrayed in Breaking Away, still make the film rise above the pack. I especially liked the setting of the final showdown, a location that makes the ending far more fascinating than as is usual in action thrillers.
The cast was first-rate. There was an odd thread in most of their careers: Hurt, Weaver, James Woods, and Pamela Reed, like Tesich, were all coming off a breakthrough film. All continued with long careers, though Reed never got the recognition she deserved, and Woods took awhile to become prominent again.
Tesich only produced four more scripts** after this one, none of which made anything more than a critical splash. He united with Yates for Eleni, which made a critical splash but did not achieve popular success.
Eyewitness somehow got lost in the shuffle over the years, despite the cast and writing.
* Tesich's first film script.
** Including The World According to Garp, a film that really amazed me in its misogyny (especially since it was praised by women's groups), and American Flyer, which, like Breaking Away, was like bicycle racing.