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I like films set in a Historical context - especially those set in the
American Civil War period. A good example of such a film is Ang Lee's "Ride
with the Devil". This one, "Summersby", is contrived, unbelievable and
boring. I have liked films with Jodie Foster. I have liked films with
Richard Gere. Together? Noooo chemistry I could detect - good acting, but no
sexual tension. A film must have some mutual attraction going for a
romance/suspense film such as this to succeed. Perhaps the rumored sexual
tendencies of these two fine actors is swaying my opinion subconsciously,
but I just didn't detect any attraction between them. Then the concept -
that married people separated for a couple of years wouldn't recognize each
other? No way. I'm sorry. No way! Then sitting through the whole thing when
I progressively buy the premise less and less just didn't make for a good
experience for me.
I give it a 5 out of 10. Gere and Foster deserve that for showing up. But unless your powers of "suspension of disbelief" are far more powerful than my own, I suggest staying away from this one.
This is a very enjoyable and involving movie. While the film borrows
heavily from the "Return of Martin Guerre" it is entertaining enough to
stand on its own, and introduces some new twists to the original story.
The mystery of the Jack Sommersby character builds gradually throughout
the film, and the role is ably performed by Richard Gere (who was also
a producer on the film), and is brilliantly supported by Jodie Foster
in fact these two performances dominate in the film, and help keep the
audience interested throughout the story.
The trial at the film's climax is someone theatrical and corny, and was the films only weak point - however the film does build to a emotionally satisfying climax and coda.
The film is put together with real polish, and Jon Amiel's direction is strong, Phillipe Rousselot's photography is excellent, Bruno Rubeo's production design is impressive and Danny Elfman's score absolutely spot on.
In summary this film is an effective mystery rolled into a slightly corny but enjoyable and entertaining romantic drama.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As has been mentioned by other reviewers, "Sommersby" is a copy of the
French movie "Le retour de Martin Guerre" from 1982, starring Gerard
Depardieu. While other such copies leave a lot of the original feeling
and acting quality behind, "Sommersby" stands and holds well on it's
own merits. See them both, and for once you may discover that the
Hollywodized copy is the better one.
While the original French story ends in the clear, the real Martin Guerre arrives in the last second of the trial, the real Jack Sommersby does not return. Instead, the drama plays around if "Jack" will hang for the crime of impersonating the real one or hang for a crime that the real Jack committed. That conflict, and his final choice is vastly more interesting than that of Martin Guerre. Martin Guerre never gives up his fight, he has all to loose. "Jack Sommersby" takes a stand and denounces his past but pays the price for it. The role of the wife, as played masterly by Jodie Foster, is much more important in "Sommersby" than in "...Martin Guerre".
The acting is sensitive and expresses the persons inner agony in every blink of the eyes. This is a movie I have seen three times, and I am sure that I will see it several times again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1548 a young man named Martin Guerre disappeared from the southern
French village of Artigat. Eight years later, an impostor named Arnaud
du Tilh arrived in Artigat falsely claiming to be Martin. Although he
was accepted as such by Guerre's wife Bertrande and his family, rumours
began to spread about his identity, and he was eventually exposed when
the true Martin Guerre returned to the village.
A number of writers and film-makers have taken inspiration from these events, including Daniel Vigne, the director of "Le Retour de Martin Guerre" from 1982. "Sommersby" is sometimes regarded as a remake of Vigne's drama, but it might more accurately be described as being loosely inspired by the real historical events upon which the other was much more closely based.
Jon Amiel transfers the action to the American South, immediately after the American Civil War. Jack Sommersby, is a landowner who left his farm to fight in the war. Nothing further has been heard from him, and everyone, including his wife Laurel, presumes that he is dead. Nobody, including Laurel, is particularly worried by this; Jack was an unpleasant individual, an abusive husband and a neglectful father to his young son Robert. Laurel is even planning to marry a neighbour named Orin Meacham.
And then one day a man returns, claiming to be Jack. Yet, although he closely resembles Jack Sommersby physically, he is quite different in personality. He is kind and loving to Laurel and Robert and tries to help his poorer neighbours by selling parts of his farm to them. He is also a shrewd businessman, as evidenced by his scheme to revive the local economy by growing tobacco. He explains this change in his character by saying "War changes you; makes you appreciate things". The only people unhappy about Sommersby's return are Orin, whose plans to marry Laurel have been dashed, and racist Confederate veterans who resent the fact that Jack is trying to help former slaves as well as his white neighbours. Orin begins to suspect that the newcomer is in fact an impostor. (Which indeed he is).
I am surprised that "Sommersby" has such a low rating on this board (currently only 5.9) and that it has been criticised so fiercely. One of the grounds of criticism has been the cultural snobbery of those, on both sides of the Atlantic, who assume that any Hollywood remake of a European film is bound to be a vastly inferior copy of the original. Yet, although Vigne's film is undoubtedly a good one, I think that Amiel's can stand comparison with it.
There are, moreover, important differences between the two films. The real Martin Guerre appears in the film that bears his name, whereas here we never see the real Jack Sommersby. (We learn that he did indeed die in the war). Both impostors are placed on trial for their lives, but for different reasons. Du Tilh is tried for his own crime, that of impersonating Martin. (Adultery and fraud were capital offences in the France of that period). The false Sommersby, a former schoolmaster named Horace Townsend, is not tried for anything he has done himself, although there are plenty of murky episodes in his past, quite apart from the question of criminal impersonation. He is tried for a murder committed by the man whose identity he has stolen. There is no doubt that Sommersby was the killer, so the only way Townsend can save his neck is to admit his deceit and prove his true identity. Yet this is something he is strangely reluctant to do.
Richard Gere can at times seem too laid-back, especially in comedies and lighter films. Yet when he is given more demanding roles, he is often capable of rising to the challenge, especially in films like "The Honorary Consul" and "Primal Fear", and "Sommersby" must count as one of his best performances, as Townsend is a very complex character. He is a man with a shady past who commits what is, to all intents and purposes, a criminal deception, yet who does for idealistic reasons, reasons for which he is prepared to lay down his life. To highlight all the varying facets of Townsend's character, while making him appear both believable and sympathetic, was a difficult task, but one in which Gere succeeded very well.
Jodie Foster is equally good as Laurel, a woman torn between the need to believe that the man with whom she has fallen in love really is her long-lost husband miraculously changed for the better and the fear that her new-found happiness may in fact be based on a lie. This was one of a number of stellar performances in the late eighties and early nineties- others include "The Accused", "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Nell" which established her as the most exciting young actress of the period. There is also a good contribution from Bill Pullman as Orin, a man torn by jealousy and resentment and yet not wholly bad.
Visually, the film is much darker than "Le Retour de Martin Guerre", which seemed to be suffused by a rich, warm light. Apart from the green of the vegetation, it is dominated by dull tones, particularly greys and browns, perhaps appropriate for a film which takes place in a country torn by civil war. It seemed to me that Amiel was taking the theme of the earlier film and using it to explore America's own history, as well as some dark areas of human psychology, the philosophical issues surrounding personal identity and the question of atonement for past sins. Indeed, it perhaps goes more deeply into these issues than did Vigne's film which did not, for example, explore deeply the reasons why du Tilh decided to steal another man's identity. If this is a remake, it is one which deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as its predecessor. 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Passionately acted film about a man who returns from the Civil War a
very different person, and is soon suspected of being an impostor.
Richard Gere, Jodie Foster and Bill Pullman all give strong
performances in a film highlighted by Phillippe Rousselot's marvelous
cinematography (he won an Academy Award for his work on "A River Runs
But for all its intrigue and mystery, very well handled by director Jon Amiel, the climax may well baffle some. One has to wonder what motivates a man to act in such a way. Perhaps he was looking to atone for his past. A moving and worthwhile drama.
Sunday, June 27, 1993 - Village Centre Melbourne
Regarding the use of a Black Judge..During "Radical Reconstruction: the USA put Black's in power to point out the South lost..This backfired and led to the Jim Crow laws and to the racial strife lasting longer..A gentler and milder form of reconstruction would have work better.. I believe the film was able to obtain its goal of suspended belief...The part which I found most difficult was his giving up his life..he must have felt it is better to die for something good than to live with something bad..Of course, if applied to the war itself this fits assuming the South winning the Civil War would fit something bad as an outcome. Thus, the movie conveyed the times even to the clothing which in the case of Foster was done quite well. My only minor concern was the War was only 4 years long which does not fit with Jack being gone 6 years and dying in 1867..
Well, what can I say? This movie wasn't the best I've seen, but not the worst. It featured some good performances and an interesting storyline, but still, it had a certain weakness to it that I didn't like very much. The film tried to be too much of an epic and got a little bit corny at times. And it featured waaay too many sex scenes that were quite unnecessary. It wasn't bad; but I don't think I'd enjoy giving it a second viewing.
I thought this movie was quite good. Richard Gere played his character
well, and once again revealed his incredible talent as an actor. The same
goes for Jodie Foster. I didn't really like the ending (I cried my eyes
out), but I don't think it could have been ended any other way. It's
definetly worth your time.
You can't keep your mind in a cool state,when you have watched 'SOMMERSBY'.I was moved by such a film that draws you into mystery.And the act of Jodie foster and Richard Gere is excellent.They collaborate each other so naturally.I love it!
I didn't expect much out of this movie when I first rented it but I was very surprised. Richard Gere gives one, if not his best performances EVER. An all star cast who all are outstanding. The ending has to go down in history as one of the most dramatic and most moving ever.
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