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Sommersby
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Reviews & Ratings for
Sommersby More at IMDbPro »

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32 out of 39 people found the following review useful:

More believable than generally given credit for.

8/10
Author: cada123 from Minnesota
19 March 2002

In events occuring before the time line in the story, Homer meets and gets to know his double, Jack Sommersby, in a Civil War prison. When Jack dies, Homer decides (for reasons barely hinted at) to impersonate Jack and take up his life where it had left off before the war six years earlier.

Viewers who have trouble accepting this story's basic premise and its subplots must not understand denial, the strongest defense mechanism of all. Laurel believes the returning soldier to be her missing husband because she wants to -- as does her son, and indeed the whole town (with a few menacing exceptions). This new guy is nicer than the other one. He is good to his wife, his kid, and his poor struggling neighbors, inspiring them all to work together to save the community at large from certain starvation if things do not change. In short, they all *need* this Jack Sommersby; therefore, he must *be* Jack Sommersby.

When folks are in denial -- does anybody not believe in mass hysteria? -- discrepancies are often overlooked, and reality is suspended. If that is hard to swallow, then consider that some folks were well aware of Homer's impersonation (if not his true identity), but chose to ignore it because it was in their best interests to do so.

The courtroom situation is another area where viewers have remarked on non-reality. But this may be chalked up to historical artifact. With today's high levels of movie/TV courtroom drama, and even genuine courtroom TV, this century's viewing audiences are far more sophisticated than the actual participants of court proceedings of the mid-19th Century, even among many lawyers and judges of the era. I had no trouble believing the courtroom of a small, largely uneducated community might have gone just the way it did in this movie... ...except for one thing, where all belief is suspended: the black judge, presiding over a southern courtroom, just after the Civil War. If there actually were any black judges in existence then, my guess would be that, like the few practicing black MD's, they were restricted to cases involving blacks, Native Americans, etc -- and not the trial of a white (and formerly rich) landowner.

Yet this plot device does not get in the way of my enjoyment of the movie over all. The judge strives mightily to be impartial, even with those townspeople who would not be so with him. Their rabid hatred of his race cries out for justice; therefore, the judge appears to provide it, with almost comic relief, precisely at a point when the tension demands it.

A haunting, well-told tale for those who appreciate depth of character over high-paced action for its own sake.

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28 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

An intelligent, beautiful and moving epic

Author: Geofbob from London, England
28 December 2001

I'm sorry for this long digression, but Sommersby reminds me of Berthold Brecht's play The Good Woman of Szechuan, based on a biblical parable. In the original parable, two women each claim that a baby is hers. King Solomon says he'll settle the matter by cutting the baby in half; one woman stops him, saying that the other can have the baby. Solomon gives the baby to the woman who has offered to relinquish it, on the basis that she loves the baby more than the other, so she must be the real mother. But in Brecht's version it is the false mother who relinquishes, and is therefore given, the baby. Brecht draws the Marxist moral from the story that things belong to those who love and use them best, regardless of legal ownership.

Jon Amiel's beautiful and touching film, adapted from a French movie, makes much the same point - that the pretended Jack Sommersby (Richard Gere) deserves to be regarded as the true husband of Laurel (Jody Foster) because he loves her more than the legal one; deserves to be regarded as the owner of the Sommersby land because he works it better; and deserves Sommersby's name - whatever that brings - because he honours it more.

At a realistic level there are a few difficulties in translating the original Martin Guerre story from the Middle Ages to the post Civil War era, and parts of the courtroom sequence could have been more incisive; but these flaws are of little account, compared with the overall sweep of the film, both plot-wise, but especially visually. It achieves epic proportions at some points, and there are wide vistas of people working in the fields reminiscent of Terrence Mallick's Days of Heaven, which also starred Gere.

It seems to be the done thing on these postings to sneer at Gere's acting; I've no idea why. Time after time, in a wide range of parts and films - from Yanks and An Officer and a Gentleman to Internal Affairs and Pretty Woman - he delivers professional and sensitive performances. Here again, his performance is impeccable; as is that of Jodie Foster, whose part calls for her to be restrained, especially when Sommersby first appears. (Incidentally, I couldn't care less whether there was any so-called chemistry between Gere and Foster; some film-goers should get it into their heads that couples on the screen are acting at making love, not engaging in the real activity.)



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25 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

A Bitter Sweet Romance

10/10
Author: ebender-1 from Ontario, Canada
17 June 2004

This is another one of my favorite Richard Gere movies, this guy is one gifted actor.

This movie is mainly about character study and the love between the two leads Jack Sommersby(Richard Gere)and his wife Laurel(Jodie Foster).

Jack Sommersby comes back from the Civil War seeming to be a changed man(for the better). All the neighbors and especially Laurel want the change to be real, so they just believe it whether it's true or not. Lets face it most people have probably at one time or another done the same thing, I know I have.

Later Jack is arrested for murder and the real question is asked. Is he or is he not Jack Sommersby?

The love that Jack(Richard)and Laurel(Jodie)have for each other is very important because it comes into play during the trial and at the ending of the movie. The ending of this movie was the only proper way to end it for the characters involved.

Richard Gere is a master when it comes to showing tenderness, sensitivity and compassion on screen. It was good to see these two actors Jodie Foster and Richard Gere playing the lead rolls, they complemented each other.

This is a beautifully written love story and a real tear jerker. I rate this movie a 10.

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16 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Engaging and well acted, with an intriguing plot twist

9/10
Author: Nat Williams from West Frankfort, Illinois
12 February 1999

"Sommersby" is an intriguing film that keeps the audience barely outside the scenes but close enough to be touched by them. The story, of Jack Sommersby (or so it appears) a changed man after returning to his wife and hometown years after being held captive in the Civil War, was borrowed from the French film "The Return of Martin Guerre." But apparently this one has some new twists.

As we watch this movie, we're not quite sure what to think. The townspeople, his friends, his dog and even his own wife aren't certain this is the man who left for the war. That, and the trial toward the end of the movie, stretches credulity a bit, my minor complaints. But after all, this is the movies, and there is a pretty good story here. A real tear-jerker, for certain.

Jodie Foster and Richard Gere carry this plot well, both putting in what I believe is some of their best work. The direction and cinematography also shine.

In the end, this movie is all about pure love of a man for a woman, in which he literally loves her more than life itself. That may seem a bit hokey, but it's a refreshing and enduring message in an movie age in which a one-night stand passes for a long-term relationship.

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12 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Is He Or Isn't He

6/10
Author: sddavis63 (revsdd@gmail.com) from Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada
19 February 2002

For the most part I found this movie to be nothing more than a routine movie about a man who may not be who he claims to be. But then, somehow, the last twenty minutes or so struck a chord with me and made the whole thing worthwhile.

Richard Gere plays Jack Sommersby (or does he?), a Confederate veteran of the Civil War who returns home after several years in a Federal prison camp. He is accepted by the townsfolk and by his wife, but he is a changed man (war could do that) and suspicions begin to rise. Ultimately, the question of his true identity becomes a life and death issue when he faces trial for murder. Is it or is it not a case of mistaken identity?

Richard Gere handled this role superbly. I was very impressed with him. I was less impressed with Jodie Foster, who seemed terribly miscast to me. Be warned: this is not a fast-paced movie, and it sometimes bogs down, but it manages to hold its own. Not a classic by any means, but worth a look-see.

6/10

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Jodie Foster superb as always, the rest so-so!

6/10
Author: bfg-5 from London, England
8 May 2002

Oh what a gorgeous woman.. (repeat until tongue seizes!).

This movie is OK, but, the screen lights up at Miss Fosters performance and presence.

Previously I didn't think twice about Miss Fosters appeal other than as a top drawer actress. But now I think differently.

Now all I need is for Miss Foster to take another feminine role, in a film with a good story and I'll die happy.

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12 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Sweet and noble tear jerker

Author: (gberke@geraldberke.com) from woodstock, ny
17 April 2001

This is a sweet film with noble causes and a grand love story. I've seen it umm, 4 times? now... An improbable story, but moral, epic, just after the civil war, of an imposter southern gentleman returning to his run down plantation, wife, child, and joining all together, black and white, to bring a tobacco farm to being, against great odds, and prosperity to the town.

But the man he is posing as must be prosecuted as a criminal... the imposter can continue the ruse and die for the crime, or confess his true identity, and undo his love, his work, his community. He must prove to the court that he is indeed Jack Sommersby, and must extract Fosters (his wife's) testimony, against her will, that he is Jack Sommersby, because as Jack, he will die. A few grand lines... when Foster must say that he is indeed her husband, that she never loved "Jack the way I loved you" and Gere, in his cell, asks her to be there at his hanging "I can do this thing if you are there."

I've enjoyed it each time I've seen it, and it brings grand tears each time.

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

3/10
Author: Stephen Roat from Creemore Ont. Canada
11 August 1998

I found the premise of this movie completely unbelievable. Waiting for a plot twist that would make it work was distracting. This was a case of good acting with a bad story. If you don't care if it makes sense, you may enjoy the picture.

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10 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

"I'm Thinkin', Who Is This Man Sittin' In My Kitchen?"

Author: Michael Coy (michael.coy@virgin.net) from London, England
4 March 1999

A soldier comes home from the Civil War to his village, and his wife and son. The South during the Reconstruction period is an austere, impoverished place. The returning man, Jack Sommersby, quickly establishes himself as the leader of the community and sets about rebuilding the people's prosperity. But is he who he claims to be?

Hollywood's version of the Martin Guerre legend, "Sommersby" boasts a good performance by Richard Gere and a wonderful one by Jodie Foster (as Laurel, Sommersby's wife). Until it allows itself to be deflected by an unconvincing and unnecessary murder trial, the film is a likeable and sensitive study of love and identity.

The story moves through the seasons, from the harshness of winter in the aftermath of war to the solemnity of autumn as Jack Summersby is led away to Nashville. As the opening credits roll, Summersby is literally in the 'dead' of winter, surrounded by images of mortality. He buries a body (the real Jack?) under a pile of rocks, then walks through a cemetery. Children prod the swinging corpse of a hanged man. Hope returns in the spring, as Jack distributes land to the villagers and launches the tobacco-growing project. High summer brings the successful maturing of the crop and with it the pinnacle of Summersby's fortunes.

The murder trial weakens the film irretrievably. It does not sit comfortably with what has preceded it, and just does not work as a courtroom drama. The ground has not been prepared for it, and so the film is obliged to lurch in an unexpected direction. Laurel is called as a surprise witness for the Defence, and Jack is startled as she approaches the stand. Is it really conceivable that Jack's attorney would adopt this strategy without having discussed it with his client?

"Is this a court of law?" asks the prosecutor, and the viewer is inclined to wonder the same thing. No attorney would say, "I believe the prosecution has proved beyond a doubt ..." The lawyer's personal belief has no relevance at all, and it is for the jury to decide if the case has been proved, not the prosecutor. Taking a straw poll of opinions in the public gallery is utter nonsense, as is the presence of a black judge in a Southern court in the 1860's. And judges do not pronounce on guilt or innocence. Juries do that. The word 'sassy' is hardly likely to have been in currency with its modern meaning in Tennessee 130 years ago. That a defendant in a murder trial should fire his attorney then immediately cross-examine his own wife, who is HIS witness, is incredible.

The early part of the film lays emphasis on the human cost of war. Many of the menfolk of Tennessee are maimed or mentally scarred. Sommersby explains the changes that have come over him by hinting that he has undergone some psychological trauma and personality shift.

Laurel works in the field, trying to hoe the dirt while encumbered by her long skirts. This is a metaphor of her life as a Southern woman of the period. She married a man who neither loved nor respected her, then 'lost' him in the war. Now she has the burden of learning to love this man all over again. Just as her skirts hamper her, as a woman she is restricted socially and emotionally.

Tiny Jodie Foster turns in a mighty performance. Her character is by turns grave, coquettish, withdrawn and affectionate - and at all times bestowed with intelligence and dignity. This is a woman who yearns to be loved, but whose painful experiences have taught her to be wary.

Bill Pullman is good as Orin, the capable, trustworthy local man who was courting the 'widow' Laurel and had expectations of marriage until Jack showed up. His feud with Jack is thoughtfully handled. Orin helps cure the tobacco bug problem when a lesser man would have enjoyed Jack's discomfiture.

Ultimately, the story just does not ring true. Would a whole village take a stranger for the man who grew up in its midst? And Jack's final choice (which cannot be revealed here) negates everything for which he has striven. It defies logic.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

You and this child are in danger of spending eternity in everlasting damnation!

8/10
Author: JohnRouseMerriottChard from United Kingdom
23 March 2013

Directed by Jon Amiel, Sommersby is adapted from the historical account of 16th Century French peasant Martin Guerre. It was previously filmed as The Return of Martin Guerre in 1982. It stars Richard Gere, Jodie Foster and Bill Pullman. Music is by Danny Elfman and cinematography by Philippe Rousselot.

In simple terms the film is about a man (Jack Sommersby) who went off to war and was presumed dead by his wife (Laurel) and the village folk of the village where he lived. Some 9 years later he returns a changed man, back in the marital bed and a hero to the village. But then questions start to crop up and it becomes a possibility that this man may not after all be who he claims to be. Sounds bizarre for sure, yet it's a true story, and a fascinating one at that.

For this American version we get top line production values across the board, with the film propelled with grace and skill by Gere and Foster in the lead roles of Jack and Laurel Sommersby. Director Amiel rightly uses the slow burn approach, a consideration to the art of story telling. This draws the viewer firmly into the post Civil War period and lets us get to know the principal players and their surroundings.

The core narrative thrust is a moving romance, one consistently under pressure of a mystery to be proved or disproved. But there's also economic issues to hand, very much so, and the vile stench of racism still hangs in the air. There's a lot going on in Sommersby and it never sags because of it. Also refreshing that in spite of some critical grumblings in some quarters, the ending is potent and not very Hollywood at all.

It's not flawless and although it's based on a true story, some suspension of disbelief is needed as regards physical appearance of Jack and his means and motives. Yet this is a lovely film, simple in story telling structure, beautifully photographed and performed, it very much feels and plays like a classic era period piece. 8/10

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