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A human rights activist travels south of the border to Tijuana to oversee Union Elections at an American company but ends up investigating the horrific deaths of 27 peasants.
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It seems I cannot buy a film these days if it isn’t priced for £1 or less. Although this cost initially drew me to looking at its cover, I was extremely happy to find who was appearing in the movie itself. Jeff Daniels, an outrageously underrated actor who has won not nearly enough awards in my opinion, finds himself working alongside many fine actors and actresses; Portia De Rossi of Ally McBeal fame and James Spader of Boston Legal are two leading examples who more than showcase their ability to support one of the finest actors of his generation and, in some scenes, upstage said legend of the cinema.
The premise of the film is so; James Rhodes (Daniels) is a human rights activist who finds himself overseeing the proceedings of Union Elections at an American company in scenic but crime-ridden Tijuana. At first, it seems all will go to plan but of course it doesn’t. One night, Daniels also oversees the investigation into the suspicious deaths of 27 peasants. The local police suspect nothing is wrong, but then Daniels has seen such cover-ups before. He prods, pokes, meanders here and there until he gets the job done and the truth uncovered which, just like reality itself, can be just as distressing. Helping out in overseeing the elections is a fellow American named Emily (De Rossi). Romantically attached to another American that goes by the name of Douglas (Spader), who has relocated south of the border and helping out in the local police department, he sees Rhodes as a inconvenience but, as many do around him, sees that James is just doing his job and trying to right things that might go wrong; a gruff and overworked Dr Sam Beckett if you may. And before you can say Oh Boy, even Douglas becomes involved in shady dealings that he cannot prevent. It seems that the only man stubborn and brave enough to resolve matters is James but the race is on before even his own life becomes like the 27 peasants.
I guess it must be written into a clause in Daniels contract, because he tends to play this sort of emotionally troubled character which requires upheaval in his life in order to rights these things that might go wrong. But hey, when his performances are as good as this in “I Witness” does it really matter? Obviously, dear reader, you are shouting at the screen saying “Hell yeah” and I couldn’t really argue with your response. James’ beard merely adds to the mystery of said character, and throughout the film you are drawn into his personality. Towards the films conclusion, you find that you have learnt an awful lot about James’ life; why he does what he does, why he has no family and why the heck does he try this whole Dr Beckett pursuit when he gets paid wages worth no more than pigeon feed? The mark of a great actor is that; Daniels entices you into this characters world it makes you want to reach out for more whilst not telling you the complete picture. Heck, I would even say this was the finest performance of Daniels career.
Despite her being recognised as the Ice Queen character Nelle in the hit TV series “Ally McBeal”, this movie was released little than a year after the demise of the kooky lawyer show. As with many television actors who have found themselves in the real world after the end of a hit television series, it is often quite troublesome to actors and actresses in this situation; should I try my hand at independent films or go for the mainstream route. “I, Witness” can be at best described as a semi-independent film with Portia giving a mainstream and top-notch performance. Within the first few minutes of her appearing onscreen as the naïve overseer you instantly forget her successful role as Nelle and concentrate on Emily. Over the course of the film she witnesses the corruption and deviance of those in charge and slowly, but surely, she comes over to James point of view; a Nelle character trait it isn’t and a congratulations is in order to Portia. The situation of being out of work certainly cannot be related to Spader. Always in employment with this movie released two years before “Arrested Development”, his soft natured performance of Douglas is perhaps the most underrated of the movie as a whole, but certainly the catalyst at times for Daniels to investigate whatever crazy lead he has bagged. It seems that in the scenes he appears, if his role was not around than the likelihood of this was that the movie would not have been as decent as it turned out.
To those who read my reviews in Wild Sound, I promise to buy a film which costs more than £1 and will report back to you. But, when movies which are priced at this who can blame me? To those who enjoy fine performances by all in a decent enough storyline which surely should have been given the green-light by Paramount or Universal rather than an Indie company than I strongly urge you to hunt this movie down and watch its 100 minutes in full.