Gere Does Guerre
So "Sommersby" is a Hollywood remake of French movie "The Return of Martin Guerre", how do I know this, well because it is often mentioned in reviews and not because I have seen "The Return of Martin Guerre". As such I can't tell you how the movies compare although I know they are very different. What I can say is that "Sommersby" is quite an entertaining movie especially when you haven't seen "The Return of Martin Guerre". It has charm, drama, twists and some entertaining performances which make it one of those movies which once it grabs your attention it doesn't let it go.
Having gone off to fight in the civil war no one, not even his wife Laurel (Jodie Foster - The Silence of the Lambs) has heard from Jack Sommersby (Richard Gere - Final Analysis) in six years and most have given him up for dead. So when one day Jack walks back in to town there is a mixture of shock and jubilation as whilst changed Jack has returned. Even Laurel who secretly was glad her abusive husband had disappeared appears happy to see Jack especially as the change is too his temperament as well, making him a loving and caring husband who comes up with an idea to help the struggling families left poor by the war. But as Jack begins to create this new life for him and Laurel there are questions as to whether this man is really who he says he is.
The opening to "Sommersby" is breath taking, not because a lot happens as we follow Jack walking home after we witness him burying a man but because the cinematography of the journey, the scenic shots are amazing, delivering atmosphere and beauty in equal measures. But it quickly gets to the story and in a way "Sommersby" is a love story as we watch Jack and Laurel re-united with Laurel being this mix of strong and vulnerable around him. We watch as she doesn't trust him but grows to as she sees that he is kind, gentle and loving all the things he hadn't been before he disappeared. It is simply beautiful and you really connect with the way that Jack and Laurel bond, loving touches and looks swelling that beauty perfectly.
But whilst we have this love story going on we also have a storyline which toys with us as we wonder whether Jack is who he says he is. Little things crop up which suggest he may not be whilst other things clearly suggest he is and it leaves you not so much on edge but certainly unsure whether he is who he says he is. This sense becomes heightened when Jack persuades the locals to sell what ever they own of value so that they can buy tobacco seed for a better future, as he loads the wagon with all these valuable we are naturally lead to wonder if he will return or do a runner.
Yet that is just part of the story because with out giving anything away there comes a point where Jack finds himself in a catch 22 situation. If he convinces everyone he is Jack then he is in trouble or alternatively if they believe he is someone else then Laurel and everyone else is in trouble. I won't give details other than to say we have a courtroom drama and it is only a few scenes but beautifully scripted scenes which have us wondering what will happen and on edge as things begin to go a certain way.
Now whilst the story is well written and Jon Amiel's direction is perfect as is the musical score from Danny Elfman it is two performances which basically sell this to us. Richard Gere as Jack is on fine form, restraining anything close to being romantically cheesy and delivering a character which feels real with a mix of being sensitive yet also strong. At the same time Jodie Foster as Laurel does the same but with a mixture of vulnerability and strength which makes the scenes purely between Gere and Foster sizzle as we get all these elements coming together and making the growth of their relationship very real.
What this all boils down to is that "Sommersby" is a pleasant surprise as it is an entertaining movie with a great deal of atmosphere but at the same time it has this beautiful love story. It may for all sense and purposes be a remake or as they would say now a re-imagining but it certainly works.