Sommersby is an unabashedly romantic and morally intricate Civil War-era tale splendidly acted by Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. It’s one of those rare occasions that the Americanization of a foreign property (here Daniel Vigne’s The Return of Martin Guerre) works as well as the original.
The missing-in-action and presumed dead Jack Sommersby (Gere) suddenly reappears two years after the end of the Civil War and attempts to start life anew with his wife, Laurel (Foster), and young son. Foster breaks off her relationship with the righteous Orin (Bill Pullman) and tentatively resumes her place alongside her husband.
Sommersby returns a new man, as tender and committed to his wife as he had once been distant and cruel. Naturally, this arouses suspicion about his identity.
The movie keeps the question beautifully balanced in mid-air. Nicholas Meyer and Sarah Kernochan’s screenplay (from Meyer and Anthony Shaffer’s story) is cogent and elegantly literate. The film’s ending is entirely appropriate but will be much debated.
Foster is a compelling actress, telegraphing layer after layer of emotional subtext. But Gere, whose production company developed the film, comes close to stealing the picture a compelling actress, telegraphing layer after layer of emotional subtext. But Gere, whose production company developed the film, comes close to stealing the picture.