She knows what evil lurks in whose heart
'The Gift' a satisfying scare
(CNN) -- "The Gift" is directed by Sam Raimi and written by Tom Epperson and Academy
Award winning screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton. The film stars Academy nominee
Cate Blanchett, Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear and Academy Award winner
Hilary Swank, along with Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi and Katie Holmes.
This also marks the reteaming of Raimi and Thornton, whose last project, "A Simple
Plan" (1998), earned Thornton another Oscar nomination.
That combination of talents makes a winning pedigree, sure, but can this dog hunt?
The answer is yes, if you like melodramatic, gothic potboilers. There are chills and thrills here,
but don't expect this to be a teen-scream flick.
"The Gift" is a story about redemption, wrapped in a
gripping thriller -- a theme not unlike that in "A Simple Plan." Similarly, it embodies Raimi's fascination with real stories mixed in with mystery and the supernatural.
Blanchett stars as Annie Wilson, a widow with three sons struggling to survive
in a small
Georgia town. Annie has what her grandmother called a "gift," the ability to
have psychic dreams and visions, so she helps support her family by giving
readings to locals.
One of her main clients is an abused housewife, Valerie
Barksdale (Swank), who refuses to leave her redneck husband, Donnie (Reeves).
Another is tormented car mechanic Buddy Cole (Ribisi), who harbors a
To some, Annie is the town joke, a con-artist at best.
To others, she's evil, perhaps in league with the devil. Annie, for her part, is
just trying to keep food on the table while struggling with guilt over her
husband's accidental death -- a death she feels she should have seen coming.
CNN interviews celebrities at the recent premiere of the 'The Gift'
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)
Movie trailer for 'The Gift'
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Another thing she should have seen coming was the violent reaction Donnie would
have upon learning that Annie was advising Valerie to leave before he beat her
to death. In a terrifying confrontation in front of her sons, Donnie threatens
to kill Annie if she doesn't stop seeing his wife.
On the other side of the tracks is the rich, beautiful, wild and willful
Jessica King (Holmes), who is engaged to marry the local elementary school's
mild-mannered principal, Wayne Collins (Kinnear).
Someone is missing
Unknown to Collins,
Jessica is like the town's doorknob -- everyone's had a turn -- and she's
having an affair with the quick-fisted Donnie.
Threats, counter-threats, illicit sex, deception and lies all come to a head
one steamy night when Jessica disappears. Then, after all other
efforts fail, her father, the highly skeptical local sheriff, (J.K.
Simmons) and her frantic fiancÚ all show up at Annie's door seeking
When Annie reluctantly begins having dreams about the missing woman -- and
starts seeing visions of her murder taking place -- things heat up as she
simultaneously becomes the seeker of truth and the killer's next target.
The plot really twists and turns from that point, but the killer's identity is
fairly easy to determine simply by the process of elimination as the climax edges
closer and closer. Despite that, Raimi's skillful direction, the way he positions
the camera, and his brilliant pacing keep things jumping almost until the final
The acting, for the most part, is excellent.
Blanchett's performance is the
glue that holds this film together. Her ability to meld into each role she plays is truly amazing, and this film is no exception. Annie goes on a
frightening journey of discovery, and Blanchett keeps this complex character
real every step of the way.
Swank's character doesn't give her much room to move. Valerie is pretty much
the same at the end of the film as she was at the beginning. Kinnear is
getting better and better, and he's pretty good in this extremely pivotal role as the principal.
Ribisi is poignant while giving one of his patented lovable-but-slightly-psycho performances as one of Annie's clients who is tottering on the edge of
As for Reeves, he never has been, and never will be, a great actor; in fact, he's usually embarrassingly bad. However, some directors seem to work
better with Reeves than others, and Raimi is in the latter category He's managed to get a performance out
of Reeves that only occasionally sounds like he's reading his lines from the back
of a cereal box.
This story is loosely based on the life of Thornton's mother, a reputed psychic (yes, she did
predict her boy would be successful in Hollywood). The setting of a small Southern
town is perfect for this Arkansas-born actor/writer who routinely touts his good-ol'-boy upbringing.
Co-writer Epperson is a childhood
friend, and he, too, knows the territory well. (He also co-wrote another film
with Thornton, 1996's "A Family Thing.")
A stellar performance by Blanchett and Raimi's gift for storytelling takes what
could have been just a gothic-style soap opera, albeit one set in a swamp, and lifts
it up a notch or two. What viewers get is a fairly compelling whodunit with mystic overtones.
"The Gift" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
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