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Sommersby isn’t a movie that grabs you by the throat right at the beginning. Instead, it slowly draws you in, more and more deeply, until you find that you care a great deal about the people and events of the film. Richard Gere plays Jack Sommersby, a rich landowner in a struggling post-Civil-War southern community, who has been absent and presumed dead for six years... until he reappears one day to find his wife Laurel (Jodie Foster) on the verge of remarrying and starting over. All is most definitely not as it seems, however; “Jack” turns out to be different from what everyone expects, and everyone from Laurel to the townsfolk must examine both what they believe and what they want to believe.

The plot effectively combines a believable romance and personal drama with tension over the economic survival of the town; a certain degree of willing suspension of disbelief is required for one key plot element (Jack’s physical appearance), but strong performances from the cast make it easy to overlook the potential plot hole. Jodie Foster turns in her usual solid work, but it’s Richard Gere who really stands out in this film, producing one of the best performances of his career as a believable Jack Sommersby. Supporting characters are well-acted also, including Bill Pullman as the embittered challenger for Laurel’s affections and James Earl Jones in a small but effective appearance late in the movie. Without giving away too much, it’s possible to say that the ending is very powerful... and not necessarily what you’d expect from Hollywood.

The cinematography is well done throughout the movie, starting with an intriguing opening sequence during the credits that introduces us to the figure of Jack Sommersby. Though it’s not overly emphasized, the historical setting contributes to the depth of the movie.

All in all, it’s a film that’s moving without being overly sentimental, and the repeat viewing value is high.

Sommersby has a widescreen anamorphic transfer (2.35:1 aspect ratio). There are a few instances in dimly-lit indoor shots where some graininess appears, but in general the picture quality is good, and looks particularly pleasing in the bright outdoor scenes. Colors and contrast seem accurate, even in one night-time scene involving white robes, dark shadows, and bright flaming torches.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is adequate for the mainly dialogue-driven film. The music is well-done and adds effectively to the mood of the film.

The extras are skimpy on this disc. It would have been nice to see some sort of making-of feature, particularly since the movie is based on the French film The Return of Martin Guerre, and it would have been interesting to get the creators’ insights into their choice to remake the film and set it in the post-Civil-War U.S. Unfortunately, all we get is the theatrical trailer. The disc offers English and French subtitles, and has both a widescreen and a full-screen version.