Peter Yates' Eyewitness is a crucible of filmatic approaches and story functions - some of which work surprisingly well, and some of which are largely counterproductive. What they have in common is that director Yates wants them to co-relate in a rather unorthodox and ambitious fashion.
Eyewitness is essentially constructed like a thriller, and in this respect, the film is familiarly positioned in late 70s / early 80s tradition. The customary political message is involved as well, even if it here is far more alternative and potentially complex from an ethical point of view than what is the case with the standard power struggles of the 1970s political thrillers. This makes a character such as Joseph highly interesting, even if he is ultimately meddled in a somewhat stock and insipid unknotting.
The aforementioned storyline turns out to be one of the film's weaker points. A little more humane and subtle handling of the clandestine movement which is uncovered could have given the mystery as a whole more potency. Instead, Eyewitness works best as a character drama and an unconventional romance in which the absolutely bouncing William Hurt is able to open up the always rigid Sigourney Weaver. Hurt is a delight in his youthful, working-man persona, and Weaver is at her most slender and delicate opposite him. If Yates had dared to give the two more steamy environments to work in and off of, it could have given the film a far more edgy quality.
Eyewitness is blessed with other small character relations as well, all of which keep the film going, surrounded by otherwise muddled plot developments. Steven Hill and a young Morgan Freeman bring a little humane warmth to the typical stakeout officers, Pamela Reed makes her scenes with Hurt into one of the best non-romances I have seen, and James Woods is remarkably layered as Hurt's unconfident buddy Aldo. A flawed film full of interesting and valuable bits and sequences.