- I Witness: Reviews and comments-

Summary: Reminiscent of "Missing" and "Traffic." Finally - an action/thriller that rocked me with a bona fide mystery! Kept me guessing the whole time. I NEVER figured it out until the end. Realistic, dirty street action scenes, no super-human, Spcl Efx horsecrap. Best thing Jeff Daniels has done since Purple Rose of Cairo. Spader is wonderful. Clifton Collins, Jr. is the next Al Pacino, and Portia De Rossi is so delicious I could taste through the screen.

Finally - an action/thriller flick that rocked me with a bona fide mystery! I hate "spoiler" reviews so I can't get into too much story. Needless to say, it's a top notch thinking man's action film. Jeff Daniels plays a Human Rights Watch type whose been demoted and sent to Tijuana because he punched out a journalist. This ain't no Greenpeace bleeding heart. He is one p***ed off and tortured tough son of a bitch. But Daniels never swaggers. He plays it with such subtlety and finesse, you know you're witnessing the kind of performance only given by actors who have the trust and confidence in their skills borne of years of experience. Clifton Collins is a Mexican homicide detective afflicted with the job of aiding Daniels in his investigation of a peasant massacre on the US/Mexican border. Collins has the same temperature of Latin fire as Al Pacino. His characterization is so convincing, it didn't even dawn on me until I saw the credits that this is the same actor who played Frankie Flowers the gay, sadistic assassin in "Traffic." He is an entirely different being - a star to watch. Spader mesmerizes by virtue of his edgy intelligence. He can ask for a drink of water and you are compelled to wonder about what he really wants. Portia De Rossi gives a gutsy performance as Daniels US government adversary, though it took me a while to get used to her playing a true hard ass. No Ally McBeal here.

The writing was first rate. Maybe the bottom line best thing about the movie. I don't know who the writing team is - Colin Green and Robert Ozn - they don't have any other credits - I looked them up on imdb. It's kind of the best of old-school, 70s writing meets 21st century dialogue and pacing. I could picture these guys writing "The French Connection" as well as "Desperado." I do wonder, though, if the Ozn part of the team is the same (or related?) Ozn from the band Ebn-Ozn.

It's by far the best thing Rowdy Herrington's ever directed. Miles above his Bruce Willis action flick - can't remember the name off the top of my head. He's very good with street action, makes it ring true without any tricks, never amping you up with manipulations or pyrotechnics. There's a moment where a union activist gets knee-capped, and I could feel the hammer drop.

Cinematography and production values are filled with foreboding and dark secrets. At times, it's almost claustrophobic and creepy and then suddenly - there's sunlight. The only thing I'll give a 'fair' grade to was the music. It was sound design styled synth stuff, and for a film set in Tijuana, it didn't work for me. It wasn't bad, just the wrong color.

Comment by MovieFreek2003, Los Angeles, for IMBD
Date: 14 January 2003

I Witness (Review by Scott Foundas, Daily Variety)

Veteran B-movie helmer Rowdy Herrington shows his chops in genre-infused "I Witness," a thriller set in Mexico, with skinhead, tattooed thugs straight out of central casting, and the requisite outbreaks of gunfire from unseen assailants. It's a strange film to pop up in a fest, but it's one that will look right at home in ancillary.

A pile of dead bodies, several of the corpses with gunshot wounds, is found in a collapsed underground tunnel in northern Mexico. Meanwhile, two San Diego youths have mysteriously disappeared while in Mexico on a dirt-bike-riding expedition.

The arrival of Jeff Daniels, playing an American human rights investigator, kicks the movie up a notch. Ostensibly in Mexico to supervise union elections at the local factory of a U.S. manufacturing company, Daniels finds himself drawn into the broader conspiracy, in which the factory may be a part. With some help from an old State Dept. friend (James Spader, wasted in a throwaway role), he gets permission to join in the investigation, partnering with the homicide detective (Clifton Collins, Jr.) in charge of the case.

The pleasure of Daniels' performance lies in how bemused he seems by all these goings-on, how he seems to care even less than director Herrington who actually dunnit. The more distant Daniels gets, the more interesting his performance becomes. Grizzled and bearded, moving as though he carries some enormous weight, Daniels is like something out of Graham Greene; he's seen it all before -- spent his whole life "getting too close to the truth."

Daniels and Collins have an unforced chemistry, and in those few moments when the script lets go of the plot for a while, there are some nice scenes in which these two law-enforcers from opposite sides of the border come to realize the ways in which they're fundamentally fighting the same good fight.

The movie isn't as clever by half as Herrington's previous "A Murder of Crows," which pitted lawyer Cuba Gooding Jr. against a villain with a penchant for disguise and a predilection for literature. Mostly, "I Witness" is about delivering a requisite level of action violence, which Herrington pulls off with weary confidence, if not spectacle. But in the end, it's only Daniels who seems invested in more than just his paycheck.

Tech contributions are acceptable, with vet Michael Mann and George Romero collaborator Pasquale Buba's crack editing adding snap to the proceedings.

© Scott Foundas for Daily Variety
(Tuesday, April 29, 2003)

Flimsy title aside, "I Witness" is an otherwise solid, absorbing crime thriller about a Mexican murder cover-up that is considerably enhanced by spare direction and smartly understated performances.

The reliable Jeff Daniels is particularly well cast as a human rights investigator who is dispatched to Tijuana (actually played by Puerto Rico) to monitor a labor dispute at an American-owned factory. Coinciding with his arrival is the discovery of 27 bodies in a border tunnel that at first have been linked to a notorious drug lord. But Daniels' seen-it-alla ctivist isn't so sure.

In the course of his own inquiry, he butts heads with a local homicide detective (Clifton Collins Jr.) and a U.S. Commerce Department rep (Portia de Rossi), among others, but ultimately uncovers the grisly truth.

Written by Colin Greene and Robert Ozn, this competent blend of "Traffic" and "CSI" is delivered straight-up, with gimmick-free direction by Rowdy Herrington ("Roadhouse") that for the most part allows the various plot curves to land unexpectedly.

Given some breathing room, the cast, also including James Spader in another one of his patented creepy/ambiguous performances, delivers the goods, with Daniels and Collins (memorable as a psycho hit man in "Traffic") establishing a particularly lively dynamic.

© Michael Rechtshaffen for Promark Entertainment Group (April 22, 2003)

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