Film: The Gift (2000)

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Film:

The Gift

Director: Sam Raimi
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Genres:
Distributor: Paramount

No one was better suited than Sam Raimi to fulfil co-writer Billy Bob Thornton’s vision of The Gift. This supernatural whodunnit is set in the wooded and swampy Southern US town of Brixton, Georgia, which is altogether familiar territory for the director of the Evil Dead movies and producer of the TV series American Gothic. Raimi skilfully builds a sense of tension and unease, using his camera initially with pleasing restraint before letting rip with skewed angles and unpredictable editing effects in a series of disturbing dreams. These belong to local “Fortune Teller” Annie (a mesmerising Cate Blanchett), who “witnesses” the murder of a local good-time girl in her nightmares. As clues and red herrings pile up, it should become obvious that this is a tale more about people and place than plotting and the paranormal.…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Take a pinch of psychic phenomenon, add a dash of Southern gothic, stir in a sharp cast of talented actors, and you’ll come up with The Gift, director Sam Raimi’s ingenious gumbo of a thriller. It doesn’t hold together as well as Raimi’s earlier A Simple Plan, but the two films are stylistically connected—The Gift was cowritten (with Tom Epperson) by A Simple Plan’s costar, Billy Bob Thornton, who in turn draws from the Deep South milieu that informed his own Sling Blade and his earlier collaboration with Epperson, One False Move. A similar sense of mystery permeates The Gift, in which a small-town Georgia psychic (perfectly played by Cate Blanchett) is tormented by tragic loss and visions connected to the murder of a local vamp (Katie Holmes) whose schoolteacher fiancé (Greg Kinnear) is a prime suspect.

Other suspects include a hot-tempered bully (Keanu Reeves) whose battered wife (Hilary Swank) is one of the psychic’s regular clients, and a traumatized local (Giovanni Ribisi) who is tenuously stabilized by therapy and antidepressants. While this trio of potential killers keeps the mystery alive, the requisite red herrings don’t add much to the film’s low-level suspense. Instead, Raimi is far more effective in creating an atmosphere of anxious dread that wells up from each of these finely drawn characters, starting with the widow psychic’s extended mourning for her lost husband, the agonized terror of a beaten wife, and the percolating anger of a cuckolded spouse. All of this makes The Gift a worthy showcase for its esteemed cast, even as its plot twists grow increasingly familiar. —Jeff Shannon

No one was better suited than Sam Raimi to fulfil co-writer Billy Bob Thornton’s vision of The Gift. This supernatural whodunnit is set in the wooded and swampy Southern US town of Brixton, Georgia, which is altogether familiar territory for the director of the Evil Dead movies and producer of the TV series American Gothic. Raimi skilfully builds a sense of tension and unease, using his camera initially with pleasing restraint before letting rip with skewed angles and unpredictable editing effects in a series of disturbing dreams. These belong to local “Fortune Teller” Annie (a mesmerising Cate Blanchett), who “witnesses” the murder of a local good-time girl in her nightmares. As clues and red herrings pile up, it should become obvious that this is a tale more about people and place than plotting and the paranormal. After A Simple Plan it’s clear that Raimi has become a mature film-maker as capable of handling psychological horror as he is at providing shocks. The top-notch ensemble cast give wholly believable performances, making the small-town setting and spooky events come alive superbly. Giovanni Ribisi and Keanu Reeves are ticking timebombs of problems, while Hilary Swank and Greg Kinnear are pathetic yet sympathetic bystanders. This is a movie of startling visions both in front of the camera and behind. —Paul Tonks

Barnes and Noble

Director Sam Raimi delivers a long-awaited gift to fans of his earlier genre triumphs (The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness) with this elegantly simple return to the voodoo of horror pictures past. Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) stars as Annie Wilson, a widowed mother of three young boys who supports her family by giving psychic readings to her neighbors. When asked to help locate the missing daughter of a wealthy local socialite, Annie finds herself fixed between the horror of her own troubling visions and the real-life dangers posed by those who fear what her “gift” might unearth. Raimi and screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan, Slingblade) have spun this modest Southern gothic out of the dust and bones of standard murder mysteries, small-town melodramas, and classic ghost tales. While its lack of surprises may disappoint some, the film’s old-fashioned sincerity, with its focus on mood and character, is refreshing in a time when the genre seems burdened by an excess of irony, attitude, and gimmickry. The solid supporting cast includes a bearded Keanu Reeves in a surprising turn as the local redneck wife beater; Oscar winner Hilary Swank, trapped beneath a horribly unflattering poodle cut, as his long-suffering spouse; Giovanni Ribisi, who gives an earnest turn as the town’s borderline psychotic; Greg Kinnear and the perpetually underrated Gary Cole doing their usual fine work; and Katie Holmes playing against type as the occasionally topless vamp at the heart of the mystery. Still, if one element stands above the rest, it’s Cate Blanchett’s absolutely luminous central performance as the strong but vulnerable Annie. She brings an engaging simplicity and truthfulness to every moment that she’s onscreen, making The Gift, despite its limitations, an unqualified success. Donald Gray

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