Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Erin Daman
Most everyone in Vine Hill remembers Jack Sommersby. They remember him as a drunken, abusive lout. But nine years after he left to fight for the Confederate Army, Jack (Richard Gere) returns, a totally and completely different person. He's kind, resourceful, and sober. Can this be the same man? Almost everyone in town is glad to see Jack back home again, all but two people -- his wife Laurel (Jodie Foster) and her fiancé Orrin (Bill Pullman), a prominent member of the church. Much to Orrin's dismay, Laurel re-falls in love with Jack and soon the Sommersby family is a happy family. Jack hatches a plan to bring the town back from the brink of poverty and together he and Laurel execute it.
Things are going well for Vine Hill and for Jack -- his wife loves him, his young son Robert loves him, the town loves him, and a baby is on the way. But Orrin hates him and he wont rest until he has destroyed Jack Sommersby. Orrin starts by accusing Jack of being an imposter -- Jacks shoe size has shrunk two sizes, his own dog doesn't know him, and he doesn't recognize his late best friends name. But no one in town believes Orrin's accusations. At least, they don't want to believe them. So Orrin takes things into his own hands, and tries to kill Jack. The struggle that ensues is interrupted by little Robbie and Orrin lets it drop. For a while. His plans will have to wait. But something even better than his own devious schemes rides into town -- a marshal with a warrant for Jacks arrest. His crime? Cold-blooded murder. Jack is taken to court. If he is Jack Sommersby, as he says he is, he will be hanged. If he claims to be another, his life will be saved, but his and his family's reputation will be tarnished, and promises he made as Jack Sommersby worthless. Is he Jack Sommersby, or another? Will his life be taken, or spared?
There are several admirable qualities in this film and in its characters. Jack befriends and treats as equals the black people in the community, in spite of a visit from the Klu Klux Klan. The main themes of the movie are truth, justice, and self-sacrifice. But many will be upset, as I was, with the portrayal of Orrin's character. Though he is a prominent member of the church, he attempts to kill Jack and is hateful, vengeful, obsessed with once more having Laurel for himself, and plain-old messed-up. Its a disturbing and highly inaccurate portrayal of Christianity. Violence is limited to the fight between Orrin and Jack, and the beating of a black man by the KKK. There is also a cross burning. Language is plentiful, with 10 each of hell and d-mn, 8 misuses of our Lords name, often coupled with profanity, and about half a dozen strong profanities. Also, for the weak of stomach, they apparently see a need to show a whole, roasting pig up close, which is kind of gross, and a lot of tobacco worms, which I find absolutely stomach-turning.
The main content down fall is the sensuality. Though sensuality is only present between a man and wife, it is still highly unnecessary to show it. Some touching, kissing sounds, implied nudity, and three instances of implied sex round out the sensual undercurrent. Jack and Laurel are shown kissing in bed and it leaves off there but there isn't much doubt as to what follows. One scene rather graphically finds them in the midst of lovemaking. There is a small sprinkling of innuendo and vulgar conversation which is brief but nonetheless present. I must commend this films excellent costuming -- in that aspect it is an undoubtedly fine film. The music is good; nothing too astounding but good. All in all, a good movie if you want a tearjerker but if you want a happier, more upbeat film without the PG-13 rating, Id pop in Little Women instead.