Jack Sommersby (Richard Gere) returns to his Deep South farmstead after serving for the confederation forces in the American Civil War. He has been missing for the past six years and although the rest of the community welcome him back with open arms, he wife, Laurel (Jody Foster) seems less than enthusiastic about his return. The other member of the village who also seems less than happy to see Jack come back is lay preacher Orin Meecham (Bill Pullman) who we learn had lost out to Jack to win Laurel’s hand in marriage but had seen an opportunity to move into Jack’s shoes whilst he was missing.
Whilst most of us would expect a person to change after being through such a traumatic experience as a war, but the changes that are evident in Jack are all the more striking. We learn that things in the Sommersby marriage are perhaps not as happy as they seem on the surface to the other villagers. Jack and Laurel, for example, were in separate bedroom before he left for the war, we also get a hint that Jack was a gambler and possibly a wife beater. However on his return Jack wins his wife back over by a series of nice romantic gestures. He also bonds again with his son, who at first had seems quite disturbed by his father’s return. In fact the only one not won over by Jack is the family dog, which mysteriously turns up dead days later.
Jack also turns his charm on with the rest of the village. Rallying the other inhabitants around he launches into a plan to rent out the land he owns to grow tobacco, and then when the profits have been reaped the growers can have the option to buy their land from Jack. The plan is well accepted accept for the fact that Jack will allow “the blacks” to also buy land.
It is impossible to review anymore of the film without revealing the hook that keeps it all going. Basically Jack isn’t Jack, but an impostor who met the real Jack during the war and has returned in Jacks place and to take over Jack’s life where Jack left off. As I say, unfortunately although this idea is intriguing it is so very far-fetched and unbelievable that you end up watching the last part of the film not quite enjoying it.
Gere and Foster work extremely well together, and although Gere’s southern accent is nowhere near as accomplished as Foster’s they make a nice couple and the romantic moments are genuinely touching. They receive great support from Bill Pullman and both Frankie Faison and James Earl Jones.
The film is a remake of the 1982 French film “The Return of Martin Guerre” and although the transposed setting of the American Civil War works well it’s just this niggling doubt over the validity of the possibility of this happening that grates.
Perhaps the film should just be best enjoyed for the superb shooting of the dramatic scenery, the moving and enjoyable film score and the terrific performances.