Daryll Deever (William Hurt) is a humble janitor in a New York City corporate office block owned by a Vietnamese company, and he feels neglected when he tries to take a grievance to one of the bosses one evening as he cleans up only to be fobbed off with vague words of reassurance. He returns to his basement and sets about emptying all the waste paper he has collected into the compactor, but his mind is elsewhere, specifically on his favourite television news reporter Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver) who once he returns to his apartment later on he watches on the videotape of the ten o'clock news that he recorded earlier. His only friends are the fearsome dog he keeps as a pet, and Aldo (James Woods) - but one of them may be serious trouble.
Director Peter Yates and writer Steve Tesich particularly wanted to work with one another after the success of their cycling drama Breaking Away which has been very well regarded and generated a fairly significant following, but Eyewitness was not set to be a repeat performance. For a start, Tesich could not get the script, based on experiences of one of his previous jobs, right until Yates suggested he adapt another script to it and the combination would make for a truly unusual entertainment. However, the studio had cold feet and demanded a title change from The Janitor to Eyewitness when it failed in the British release under the original name, whereupon it promptly flopped around the world no matter what it was called.
There were some who have kind words to offer for their efforts, but in the main the results were awkward in the production and damned awkward to watch on the screen, with characters swimming in and out of the plot supplying scenes that in far too many cases did not contribute anything of use to the thriller plot. This was one of those turn of the seventies into the eighties suspense pieces that were influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, specifically his interest in voyeurism and the mistaken perception that can arise from the practice, but there was a difference here in that the Vietnam veteran hero Daryll, behaved more like the villain, or if he was not wholly committed to menace, then his actions could have been those of a psychopath with a few narrative tweaks.
For a start, Eyewitness was more than questionable, it was downright bizarre and Yates' restrained handling of the mood did little to conceal the preposterousness of what we were asked to watch. You could swallow the notion that Daryll would do anything to get close to Tony, but when he stumbles upon a murder at the offices and the media take an interest, would she really have gone to those lengths to get close to him? Romances depicted between stalkers and their victims are not often shown on the screen for a good reason, because even if it was possible in real life the message that was sending was dubious at the very least, highly irresponsible at worst, yet here we were with the creepy janitor, who we are supposed to find endearing, all lovey-dovey with the object of his obsession, and that was reciprocated with unpleasant obliviousness as to what it was saying.
To add to the perversity, we were asked to believe Tony was linked to this murder herself through a Jewish underground which sneaks their dissidents out of Communist states, something organised by her boyfriend Christopher Plummer. You can tell this was not operating in a sensible realm, yet nothing in the approach, be that acting or direction, hinted that they were anything but sincere in serving up this weirdness posing as a dramatic thriller which only rendered such random elements as that dog trained to attack Daryll when he enters his home until he can pacify the ferocious beast all the more baffling. It featured a hell of a cast, not only newly minted stars Hurt and Weaver but up and comers like Pamela Reed, Morgan Freeman and (especially looking to be on the road to bigger things) James Woods, but even they were more or less essaying red herrings no matter their own off the wall actions (Aldo tries to crush Daryll in the compactor, then waves his attempted murder away seconds later). Sometimes a film this wrongheaded can have a certain compelling nature in the watching, but Eyewitness, while looking nice, did not. Music by Stanley Silverman.