07 April 2009

The Gift

The Gift An Intelligent Mystery
By Kristin Battestella

With its big names and creepy storyline, you would think The Gift should have stood out upon its release in 2000. Fine performances, an intelligent murder mystery, and supernatural innuendo-The Gift deserves a second look.
It’s the sleepy South, and recently widowed Annie (Cate Blanchett) provides for her three sons by giving psychic readings and advice to troubled Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi) and abused wife Val (Hillary Swank). When socialite Jessica King (Katie Holmes) is murdered, Annie grows close to Jessica’s fiancĂ© Wayne (Greg Kinnear). Unfortunately, disturbing dreams begin to haunt Annie, and Val’s husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves) is not pleased with her meddling.
The Gift is a complex tale. On one hand, it’s very obvious and has you calling out who is who. Then again, some sequences from director Sam Raimi (Spiderman, Army of Darkness) and writers Billy Bob Thorton (Yes, that Bily Bob Thorton. Before he was famous for drinking Angelina Jolie’s blood, Thorton showed his writing skills with Sling Blade) and Tom Epperson (Camouflage, also with Thorton) are very subtle and fool you into believing exactly what they want. Instead of making you feel stupid or relying on supernatural effects, The Gift holds the audience’s interest with strong characters and some good old fashioned wit.

The GiftCate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings, The Aviator, Elizabeth) is on form as Annie. I was surprised to hear her put on a southern drawl compared to her usual formal Brit and Aussie speak. Sometimes it’s trying too hard and annoying, but other times it is just right. A viewer not familiar with Southern accents might be put off, thinking her voice severely fake. But the truth is, a lot of deep Southerners really talk like that. Once your ears adjust, Blanchett’s skill shines through. She’s compassion with her customers and sons, but we feel for Annie when things aren’t kosher. We root for Annie and want her to help solve this murder- not because we liked Jessica, but because we like Annie. There is a bit of the amateur detective in over her head feel, but Blanchett keeps Annie human and fearful of the crimes and her ability.

The Gift is largely a Blanchett vehicle, but the supporting cast does fine. Oscar winner Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don’t Cry) and Keanu Reeves (The Matrix) don’t have much time in this ensemble, but their transformation into a twisted, abusive, white trash couple is a bizarre delight. We know Katie Holmes’ (Dawson’s Creek) Jessica and Greg Kinnear’s (As Good As It Gets) Wayne aren’t meant to be together, and Kinnear shows his chops mourning opposite Blanchett. Likewise, Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room) plays Buddy as a ticking time bomb, and Sheriff Pearl Johnson (J.K. Simmons, The Closer) is a thorn in Annie’s side. Who can be trusted? The supporting cast is firm in their performances but no less ambiguous about their character’s motives.
Okay, there are a few supernatural spooks in The Gift, but if you’re looking for major effects and thrillers, you won’t find them here. We get the usual dreamy, shock and gore, in your face psychic vibes as needed; but outside of done up dead Katie Holmes, the creepy vibes come from Blanchett. Naughty boys will however, enjoy those nude Holmes’ bits.

Rated R for all that goodness, The Gift is not for kids or prudes. Straight horror fans might find this complex thriller too tame on blood, scares, and gore; however, audiences looking for something with a little more intelligence, character, and emotional will enjoy The Gift. Online viewing or renting and affordable DVD options give you every reason to love The Gift.


thebonebreaker said...

I remember this one being pretty good - your review makes me think that I should re-watch this one :-)

Thanks Kristin!

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Bone. That's what I'm here for, to agree and disagree and provide intelligent viewing choices when the wallet is tight!