Kelly was my first major film crush. Seeing her on the big screen in Peter Weir’s classic Witness with Harrison Ford, I was immediately enchanted. There’s something about the intimacy created when you see a beautiful woman on a 40-foot high screen.
For me at least, Kelly was the answer to a young boy’s conception of qualities the perfect woman embodied. Qualities like wholesomeness, integrity, intelligence and a smile that lights up an entire room. Kelly has all of these qualities, both as an actress and a person. She’s persevered through so much pain in her life, that for me her inner beauty transcends time.
Witness was a beautiful film with a timeless love story. A spin on the city boy meets country girl with a great thrill-ride built in. John Book (Harrison Ford) shows incredible restraint when he comes up against the raw sexuality of Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) in her natural environs – a natural beauty with a tranquility and grace that has been rarely portrayed as poignantly as in this 1985 film.
The story is deceptively simple with an ending that is foreshadowed but no less heartbreaking when it arrives. This is one of my favorite films because it captures the chemistry of two on-screen lovers in scenes that are as straightforward as they are magical. Ford turns in an amazingly understated yet powerful performance. McGillis, however, is the heart and soul of the movie and her ability to convey innocence simultaneously with strength and sexual yearning is sublime. Can you tell I’m biased?
By comparison, Top Gun with Kelly and Tom Cruise is a dated and contrived affair. A vehicle for two stars who have limited on-screen chemistry. There are many reasons, not the least of which Kelly towers over Cruise both in stature and acting ability. She literally had to crouch through most of the movie, so as not to appear taller than her leading man. Tom doesn’t help things either, with a super-macho performance that leaves no room for subtlety. Yet as mismatched as they are, there’s still enough steamy scenes that are enjoyable to watch. And Kelly’s long blonde tresses and come hither stare never disappoint.
Kelly McGillis will always be one of my favorite leading ladies. My early cinematic crush has grown into a long-lived admiration for an actress who has endured a lot and still come out on top, in life if not on-screen. That said, I hope to see more of her in the movie theater and on TV in the years to come. Until then, we’ll always have Witness.