Still from 1981's "Eyewitness."

Eyewitness August 23, 2017        


Peter Yates



William Hurt

Sigourney Weaver

Christopher Plummer

James Woods

Morgan Freeman

Pamela Reed









1 Hr., 43 Mins.

paraded its sleaze around and caused one to ponder if maybe Yates could only be a great filmmaker when handed the right script. Eyewitness premiered, after all, only two years following his helming of the much-acclaimed coming-of-age story Breaking Away (1979).


This film, then, is an exemplification that much of Yates’ success as a filmmaker depended on the men writing for him. Here, the screenplay, written by Steve Tesich (who also wrote Breaking Away), is a tepid stretching-out of a forgettable episode of a crime television serial. Such is a washout, given how adept Yates can be when the material is workable.


In Eyewitness, all circles around, like a glossy Hitchcock thriller, the discord resulting from a heinous murder. The man who discovers the body, and whom is our obligatory everyday hero, is Daryll Deever (William Hurt), a hapless janitor. The killed is a businessman who works in his building, and Deever happens upon his mangled remains after hearing the clinking of a ceiling fan that got damaged in the process of the victim’s fighting back.


Deever knows nothing about the murder itself — he only found the body — but when he sees that news reporter Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver) has been tasked with concocting a story revolving around the crime for the six o’clock news, he strives to get her attention. He’s had a crush on the woman for years.


But such gets him into trouble. The offing was perpetrated by some devious colleagues, and they've come to the conclusion that Deever knows what happened thanks to his intent to get on his favorite news program. Deever and Sokolow, meanwhile, end up getting along and take it upon themselves to do some sleuthing. The truth, though, turns out to be personal.


That personal twist, though, is one of the worst things about Eyewitness. It's so unbelievable, so obviously an attempt by Tesich to manipulate us into having some sort of melodramatic emotional reaction, that we forget to put forth any level of engagement once it’s revealed. And we were already skeptical of the movie beforehand: Sokolow and Deever dive into a romantic relationship straight away despite Deever’s serial killer glasses and a leeriness that suggests that maybe he’s been stalking the reporter in his spare time. It's disjointed.


Since unlikely duos are always fun to pair in the midst of a cinematic whodunit,

Eyewitness's unbridled awkwardness as a thriller only amps up the disappointment, worsened especially as an effect of the wasting of the ever-capable Hurt (who would see success with Body Heat later that year) and Weaver (fresh from her star-making turn in 1979’s Alien). On the television program Sokolow co-hosts, she brutally takes down a bad movie for a segment reminiscent of At the Movies (1986-2010). The irony. C-

yewitness (1981) is a movie built on implausible coincidences and half-baked set pieces, a throwaway thriller unaware that its melodramatic flab cannot work without the knowing wit of, say, Brian De Palma at his 1980s peak. We’d think it might retain some of that De Palma smarminess, considering its being directed by Peter Yates, who directed such American classics as 1968’s Bullitt and 1972’s The Hot Rock. But we also must consider that Eyewitness comes closer in its release date to 1977’s The Deep, which was, of course, a crowd-pleaser which