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An intelligent, beautiful and moving epic
Geofbob28 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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More believable than generally given credit for.
cada12319 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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Engaging and well acted, with an intriguing plot twist
Nat-2112 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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A Bitter Sweet Romance
ebender-117 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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Underrated Civil War drama with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster
Wuchakk13 December 2016
Released in 1993 and directed by Jon Amiel, "Sommersby" stars Richard Gere as a Confederate soldier returning to his rundown estate in Tennessee and his wife, Laurel (Jodie Foster), after a long six years absence. Curiously, Laurel discovers that the war has changed Jack for the better. Bill Pullman plays his rival for Laurel's affections while James Earl Jones appears as a judge in the final act.

This is such a well-done Civil War drama, taking place just after the war in 1866-1867. The story is contrived, but executed believably with convincing performances. Contrived or not, something like this COULD happen, if you reflect on it. I can't say more because it's best that you go into the movie without knowing the revelations of the final act. The first half is low-key, but it's just a foundation for the realistic thrills of the mid-point and the suspenseful drama of the closing act.

The film runs 114 minutes and was shot in Virginia with the opening winter scene filmed at Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, West Virginia.



A clueless reviewer criticized the film on the grounds that "this story fell a bit flat for me when Jack, for some reason, doesn't tell the same (true) story (that clarifies the identity confusion) to the court, that he does to his wife in the final jail scene."

This is incredible because the movie plainly reveals several reasons why Jack didn't want to tell the truth that he wasn't really Jack Sommersby: (1.) The freed blacks and others who bought & farmed parts of his land would lose it; (2.) his wife & daughter would be condemned as an adulteress and a bastard child respectively; (3.) he "buried" Horace Townsend forever when he buried the real Jack Sommersby; he wasn't willing to "resurrect" that wicked loser, even at the cost of his life.

And (4.) If jack was proved to be Horace, and was released, another court would have arrested him on the grounds that he was a liar, an impostor and a thief. That court would NOT have released him on the grounds that he had found love and done charitable things while impersonating a dead man. He would have gone to prison and possibly even died for his actual crimes.

So dying for a cause he believed in, for people who respected him, made more sense than dying without any honor or legacy whatsoever.
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Jodie Foster superb as always, the rest so-so!
bfg-58 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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Sweet and noble tear jerker
gberke17 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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Is He Or Isn't He
sddavis6319 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.

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You and this child are in danger of spending eternity in everlasting damnation!
Spikeopath23 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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"I'm Thinkin', Who Is This Man Sittin' In My Kitchen?"
stryker-54 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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I found the premise of this movie completely unbel...
fester-511 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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Phew! Stinko Long Boring Chick Flick
pluto-118 April 2001
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.
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Black Judges during Reconstruction
guint-112 August 2008
One of my favorite films. Just a note to the viewers who have questioned the role of a "black judge" during this period of history. They certainly existed and handled all manner of cases. A note from an article in the NY Times follows: Special Correspondence THE NEW YORK TIMES.

February 8, 1903, Sunday

Page 34, 859 words

CHARLESTON, S. C., Feb. 5. -- During the reconstruction period in South Carolina, which followed the close of the civil war, the management of State affairs for a time was left to the tender mercies of the Negro. Officers who served with the Governor were Negroes, there were Negro Judges, and practically every county in the State had its black representatives in the General Assembly. [ END OF FIRST PARAGRAPH ]
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A fantastic movie! 2 Thumbs up!
jmontanac25 September 2001
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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A mess of a remake
Kreme5 November 1999
This remake of The Return of Martin Guerre is little more than a mixed-up waste of time. Jodie Foster is fine. The translation from medieval France to Civil War USA is nothing short of silly. If you found even a speck of interest in this film you owe it to yourself to see the original, which, incidently, is a true story.
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I love this movie!
movieoh6 February 2001
This is one of my favorite movies! I love the suspense of wondering just who Richard Gere's character is, which is kept up throughout the story. Even though I know who the Sommersby character is, I find myself holding my breath with tension, waiting for the outcome. And no matter how many times I watch it, the end just kills me. It's a movie I watch alone so I can sob all I want to. I find myself wondering what I would do if I were in Mrs. Sommersby's place.

Great acting, great editing, very gripping. The only thing I would omit is the sexual content, which wasn't at all necessary to advance the story. I'd recommend it for any adult, but not children.
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Has To Be One Of The Dumbest Movies Ever Made
ccthemovieman-19 August 2006
If you believe this story, I have some swampland in New Jersey I'd like to sell you. Hey, it's right near Atlantic City!

C'mon, now....really....a man (Richard Gere) comes home from the Civil War and claims to be Jodie Foster's husband. He had been presumed dead.

The whole movie is the story of whether she can figure out it's really him or not - even when they are naked in bed! Yeah, right! What an insult to anyone's intelligence. Don't waste your time with this lemon.

For those who think this is "intelligent," I hope your lobotomy went well! I hope the original (this is a re-make) "The Return Of Martin Guerre," was better than this.
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Affecting tale of love, loyalty, and nobility
dwr2465 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Part of why this movie resonated so much with me was that I saw it right before I got married, and I thought, now THAT'S the kind of commitment a marriage needs. This is a rather sweet tale of love and sacrifice. Admittedly, it's a bit far fetched at times, but if you buy into it, it is a rewarding movie.

John Robert "Jack" Sommersby (Richard Gere) went off to fight the Civil War, as did many plantation owners in the South, leaving his wife, Laurel (Jody Foster)and son (Brett Kelley) behind. Laurel is a resourceful woman, and she manages the farm on her own. When Jack is presumed dead, Laurel starts a relationship with her neighbor Orin (Bill Pullman). Consequently, neither of them is particularly happy when Jack turns up at the plantation after the war, Laurel because Jack didn't treat her very well, and Orin because he wants Laurel. Still, Laurel feels she must honor her marriage vows, and breaks things off with Orin, who, being a rather poor sport, remains a continual thorn in Jack's side. However, Laurel starts noticing that Jack is much different than when he left for the war. He is kinder, more loving, treats her and their son much better. She actually starts to fall in love with him. The farm prospers and Laurel gives birth to a baby girl that they name Rachel. And then one day, Jack is accused of murdering someone during the war. Suddenly the question of his identity becomes all important, because Jack Sommersby is guilty of murder, of that there is no question. But if this man is someone else pretending to be Jack Sommersby, then he is innocent. Of course, if he isn't Jack Sommersby, then Laurel's reputation is shot, as is Rachel's. Who is this man that has been living with Laurel? Who will he choose to be?

It's a rather intriguing premise, as by the end of the movie, Jack is in a no win situation, and his choice may not be what the viewer would expect. Still, the story is presented in such a way that you understand both Jack's choice in spite of what he must sacrifice and Laurel's willingness to stand by him in spite of what she must sacrifice. This makes for a most satisfying ending.

The acting was excellent. Gere gives a moving portrait of a man who discovers love, and discovers that love requires a nobility that he hadn't realized he was capable of. Foster's performance shows Laurel's quiet determination to get through whatever she has to and survive as best she can. Pullman's Orin comes off as increasingly whiny and spoiled, which works well for the character he creates. James Earl Jones' judge is an excellent rendering. Of the smaller roles, the most notable is William Windom as the Reverend Powell, showing us that once again, no matter how small the part, he will give it his all.

Admittedly this is a tear jerker. I choke up just thinking of the ending. But it is ultimately a tale of nobility and sacrifice showing that sometimes we must sacrifice all to safeguard those we love.
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decent time passer--but why not watch the original?
MartinHafer19 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is an okay film romance set in the South just after the Civil War. A husband returns from the war but he doesn't seem "right"--he looks a tiny bit different and acts too nice to be the same man. Eventually, this all comes to a head in a confrontation that might lead to the man's incarceration or execution. The sad thing is, his wife prefers this new man and would rather have him than the man who left for the war.

Technically, this is a pretty good film but certainly not a great film. The problem I have with it, though, is that this is a remake of the French film THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE--a TRUE account of a story like SOMMERSBY that occurred several hundred years ago. This Gérard Depardieu film is better acted and written, but also less "glossy". I recommend that if the story sounds interesting, why not just see the original since it is the better film.
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Never Reaches Its Potential.
tfrizzell6 July 2002
Eerie little would-be-romance that staggers far too much to be interesting. Jodie Foster believes she is a Civil War widow until her husband (Richard Gere) returns one day. But Gere has changed so much that everyone, including Foster, question whether he really is who he says he is. A film that could have been so suspenseful and thought-provoking becomes trivial due to sorry pacing and a screenplay that roams way too much at the most distressing times. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
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Theo Robertson17 December 2002
Jack Sommersby returns to the deep south after the civil war . Well I`m afraid Richard Gere doesn`t make a convincing confedarate officer anymore than he made a convincing IRA terrorist in THE JACKAL . Even more unconvincing is the scene where two slaves approach the long lost Jack and warmly hug him . Yup I`m sure if you worked in the cotton fields 24/7 for no money you`d sure be glad to see your slave masters return in one piece after a war that was supposedly fought against slavery . Only thing is Jack Sommersby was fighting for the side that wanted to keep slavery . This reminded of a very funny sketch from THE BENNY HILL SHOW with Benny as a southern belle and Bob Todd blacked up as a slave . Remembering this comedy classic caused me to laugh so much I was unable to concentrate on watching the rest of the movie . Instinct tells me I didn`t miss much
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geicogirl10 July 2003
I thought this movie was quite good. Richard Gere played his character very 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.

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Sommersby - Difficult to Identify With
krocheav23 August 2019
The plot of this glossy remake of a based-on-fact story leaves much to be desired - pacing is poor and too many situations just don't hold up. Most performances are good but its Jody Fosters film all the way. A big budget was allocated to this production but somehow it never looks as convincing as it should. Romantics might enjoy the situations but anyone looking for believability might be better off seeking out the original. Still, good entertainment for the easily pleased.
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Great Story, Realistic Emotionally But...
snowravyn14 June 2002
... there are just a bunch of historical errors. The time Jack was kept in the Union prison... well, there was no Union prison when he was supposedly to have been there among other mistakes. Being a history lover sometimes makes it difficult to enjoy a beautifully written movie.

Besides that, everyone played their roles very well. Never a big Foster or Gere or anyone's fans, I was touched by the characters. Foster's joy of the return of a 'better' Sommersby, lost when the truth was known. Gere's tenderness towards 'his' wife, kids, neighbors. Pullman's jealousy of Sommersby's return and then silent acceptance & defeat of the love lost. The movie opened during the time when Hollywood scripts were filled with mistakened identities & the likes yet this movie stands out because the realistic emotions depicted - the yearning of the return of a loved one at war, the denial to suspect a 180 degrees change of a husband returned... well, I'm only allowed 1000 words here so I'll end here for you to enjoy the film.
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