The Gift
The Gift

USA, 2000. Rated R. 111 minutes.

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Greg Kinnear, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, Michael Jeter, J.K. Simmons, Gary Cole, Rosemary Harris, Kim Dickens, Chelcie Ross
Writers: Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson
Music: Christopher Young
Cinematographer: Jamie Anderson
Producers: James Jacks, Tom Rosenberg, Robert G. Tapert
Director: Sam Raimi


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

C ate Blanchett. That's my two-word review of this film. Cate Blanchett.

Great, Carlo. That's real helpful. I can see for myself that Cate Blanchett is in this by reading the movie poster, you dolt.

I guess you were expecting more than two words. Let me try a whole paragraph:

The Queen of England (Elizabeth), an upper-crust New York socialite (The Talented Mr. Ripley), a Long Island housewife (Pushing Tin), a turn-of-the-century high society Brit (An Ideal Husband), a 19th-Century Australian girl in the Outback with a penchant for gambling (Oscar and Lucinda), and now, a widowed fortune teller in the Deep South–Blanchett can play them all, convincingly, compellingly, and note-perfectly. Bolstered by a remarkable supporting cast under the assured guidance of suddenly mature director Sam Raimi (maker of the Evil Dead movies) in his third grown-up outing, The Gift is proof that a talented cast and crew is sometimes enough to turn second-rate material into first-rate entertainment. Much like What Lies Beneath, which also features watery ghosts and forced plot developments, The Gift may stick in your craw in retrospect, but it engages you until the lights come on.Cate Blanchett

How's that? Better?

That's a little more informative, I guess. But what's this about "second-rate material" and "forced plot developments"? Didn't Billy Bob Thornton write this movie? What the heck is it about?

The premise is simple: Annie Wilson (Blanchett) has the gift of extra-sensory perception. When a murder investigation hits a dead end, the bereaved (Chelcie Ross, Greg Kinnear) and the reluctant sheriff (J.K. Simmons) turn to Annie for help. Etcetera.

It's pretty standard thriller material, in other words. But Thornton (whom Raimi directed in A Simple Plan) and co-writer Tom Epperson throw in additional characters that complicate matters for Annie. Annie is more than a soothsayer to some of her clients–she's a full-fledged therapist. There's Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi), for example, a severely disturbed young man with an explosive temper, and it's not clear whether he's a greater danger to others or to himself. (It wouldn't be a Billy Bob movie without a character like this.) Then there's Valerie, a battered wife (Hilary Swank, sporting the most unattractive haircut ever seen on a human, or any other primate) whom Annie has been trying to persuade to leave her husband (Keanu Reeves). Said husband, Donnie, does not appreciate Annie's advice to Valerie and takes to threatening Annie and her children.

Annie is soon in over her head. She has as little control over her gift--when it manifests itself and what it tells her when it does--as she does over the violence and murder around her. The rest of the story is predictable enough, though at least one or two twists should catch you by surprise.
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What is Oscar-winner Hilary Swank doing in this dinky role, anyway?

Who knows. Maybe she committed to it before her Oscar nomination was announced. She's good, though, as is everyone else in the cast except eventual victim Katie Holmes, who displays a tendency to overact without the talent to do so effectively. She's not bad as the corpse, though.

Whoa. What about Keanu? Doesn't he suck?

No, Keanu does not suck. For him, that may sound like high praise. But he deserves a little praise. Although he's seldom given credit for it, Reeves has always been a fine physical actor. With The Matrix, he made a quantum leap as a facially expressive actor. In The Gift, even though his accent may not be 100% right, he is finally beginning to show progress as a vocal actor–always his biggest failing. As Donnie, he isn't just competent. He's downright creepy, and manages to stand out in a very accomplished cast. Playing nasty people in The Gift and The Watcher should help his career.

So what's the bottom line? Do I plunk down my 8 bucks?

The movie is well worth seeing for Blanchett–you'll be a fan going out if you weren't one heading in–and Raimi's continued evolution is interesting. He has always known how to make creepy movies, of course, but instead of employing his old jarring activist style, he builds atmosphere and lets the actors breathe, making the whole seem a little more than the sum of its parts. Despite that, save your money; The Gift is one of those films that you're better off waiting for on video, when your standards are a little lower. That way, it's more likely you will be pleasantly surprised than vaguely disappointed.

Review © January 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 Paramount Classics, a division of Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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