For our money, Harrison Ford’s most interesting work came with his fruitful, but short-lived collaborations with Australian director Peter Weir. In a career that spans some of the most iconic genre roles in the history of cinema, good ol’ surly and suffer-no-fools-gladly Ford has been only nominated for an Oscar once. And that once was for Peter Weir’s near-perfect, flawlessly scripted 1985 drama, “Witness” -- arguably Ford’s finest acting moment on screen and the filmmaker’s best film; it is a confluence of everything great about these two collaborators. While once again playing a heroic type -- John Book, a Philadelphia cop with a badge and a gun -- he’s not the insouciant wisecracker like Indy or Solo, nor is he a knight in shining armor either. Instead Book seems like normal, working-class detective trying to solve a case: a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas in his screen debut) witnesses a murder in a local bus station. During routine questioning, the boy fingers the perpetrator of the murder -- a fellow Philly murder detective (Danny Glover). Book carefully tries to broach this news with his superiors, but an attempt on his life convinces him to go into hiding with the boy and his mother (Kelly McGillis) in the isolated milieu of Amish country. The thriller then becomes a romance cum culture clash and fish out of water tale with Ford’s character representing the big, oafish brute of society, ignorance and consumerism that is ruining things like the values of quaint, peaceful and non-violent Mennonites. As he falls for Rachel, the boy’s mother, he begins to empathize, understand and most importantly respect these people’s way of life (the film also featured excellent performances by Jan Rubes and Josef Sommer). While it's an unflashy turn opposite his better known roles, it’s full of subtle dimension, quiet mood and tenor and just the right amount of intensity when needed. It’s overfull with memorable moments, including a song and dance in a barn to "Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke, to a moving moment where Ford disarms an armed villain with nothing more than righteous morality and self-sacrifice. Nominated for eight Academy awards (it won two) “Witness” finds the actor in a superbly graceful and thoughtful manner; this is Ford’s finest and yet most underrated moment on screen.
Alternates: We know we'll get a million comments about it, but as you'll have noticed, we opted not to include Ford's performances as Han Solo in any of the "Star Wars" films, for the reasons gone into above. But that isn't to say that he isn't great in the films: he absolutely is, and they wouldn't work anywhere near as well without him. But more than enough has been said over the years, there are more interesting performances to highlight, and he's better in "Raiders" anyway.
Now that we've got that out the way, what else do we have left? "American Graffiti" was the first hint of his star quality, as an obnoxious drag racer, but the part doesn't quite feel significant enough to make it in here. He's surprisingly good value as an outlaw teamed with Rabbi Gene Wilder in Robert Aldrich's "The Frisco Kid," but the film is more or less forgotten for a reason: it's harmless fun, but not much beyond that. "Working Girl" showed he could work nicely in comedy, "The Fugitive" is one of his better 1990s action performances (there's a desperation to him that really sells the situation), and, while the J.J. Abrams-scripted "Regarding Henry" is pretty weak, Ford's decent in the film. And as we said, "Morning Glory" displayed a fun turn from the actor, that could see him move into a third act of Walter Matthau-style curmudgeonry. Let's just hope he learns to pick his scripts better in the near future.
-- Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Drew Taylor