Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Richard Gere, Jodie Foster, Bill Pullman, James Earl Jones, Lanny Flaherty, William Windom|
This film is an emotion-grabber on several levels. Set in 1867 Tennessee, it deals with the return of a presumed-dead Confederate soldier to his family.
There’s been no word of Jack Sommersby (Richard Gere) for six years. Suddenly he shows up, claiming to have been a prisoner of war. He knows most of the townspeople and many details of his prewar life, but has lapses of memory on some things. People generally accept these lapses and his changed character traits as the results of a head injury, but some doubt his identity. When he comes up with a tobacco-growing scheme that includes selling land to blacks (something the former Jack would never have done), the doubts grow. Then the KKK gets involved, identifying Jack as an imposter. Laurel Sommersby (Jodie Foster), who has accepted Jack as her long-lost husband, is placed in a very difficult position. There’s good supporting work by Bill Pullman as Laurel’s jilted suitor Orin Meecham, and by James Earl Jones as a Reconstruction-era judge.
Content warnings: When Jack first meets an old friend at the edge of his village, he greets him by uttering a crude joke involving his friend’s loss of an arm. From there on, profanity is largely confined to mild cursing. The subject of race relations runs throughout the film; there’s a cross-burning and the beating of a black man (which has the same feel as the scene in “Places in the Heart”), and Jack’s rival Orin is both a preacher and a KKK rider (thanks, Hollywood!). There’s mild violence, but no on-screen deaths. The Sommersbys have several bedroom scenes; there’s no visible nudity, but three scenes involve visible sexual touching. The emotion of the “antihero” plot, in which Jack may or may not be an imposter and either way is a flawed person with some redeeming qualities, was too much for my wife; she was overwhelmed by Laurel’s predicament, and couldn’t finish the movie.
This film is modeled on the French play “The Return of Martin Guerre” which is set in the Hundred Years War. The 1982 film version of that play, starring Gérard Depardieu, is also available on video (in French with subtitles). That film contains more offensive material than “Sommersby” does.