The Gift

Sam Raimi got his start with the Evil Dead movies. Yes they were bad, but in a very amusing way. Later, A Simple Plan established an actual reputation in Hollywood, then For Love of the Game proved he could fall as hard as any other director. Still, Raimi is a skilled director, capable of zeroing in on character emotions and using them to drive a story forward. It's a shame that The Gift is such a familiar retread, done countless other times in movies, television, books, and other entertainment mediums. Even the fact that the main character is psychic is not original. Character traits, plot twists, and the true identity of the murderer, and the resolution all follow a familiar course. It's amazing that such a conventional film attracted such an amazing cast. It is the acting that brings The Gift to a tolerable level.

Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, One False Move) and Tom Epperson (One False Move, A Family Thing) co-wrote the story. Odd, since they usually come up with better material. Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett, An Ideal Husband, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is a near pariah in a small southern town. She is a single mother raising three young sons, and is a psychic. She does readings for locals including Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Boiler Room) and Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry, The Affair of the Necklace). Valerie's husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves, Sweet November, The Replacements) is beating her, and is against Valerie's continued visits to Annie.

Annie's boss is Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear, Loser, Nurse Betty), the principal at her sons' school. His fiancee Jessica King (Katie Holmes, Wonder Boys, Teaching Mrs. Tingle) is missing, and the police turn to Annie as a last resort. Like most of the town, they look down upon her profession. However, she is the only one who seems to have information about King, and everything points directly at Donnie Barksdale. It may seem like there are many characters, but following the story is no problem at all. Especially since once it introduces everybody, it coasts along until the end.

Raimi asserts himself with his direction. The look of The Gift is wonderfully decrepit. Buildings are in a state of disrepair, and swamps are dark and ominous with trees rising out of the dirty water. Blanchett gives an amazing performance, once again making everybody believe she has no Australian accent whatever. She plays a normal mother trying to cope with her unusual ability. To her, it is more of a curse than anything else; too bad that aspect was not developed more fully. Reeves also gives a good performance. People usually malign his acting ability (granted, it's easy to do and fun) but he is truly menacing here. Gone is any sort of bad acting, replaced with pure anger. Ribisi is also suitably creepy. He is much better when he is playing people a little more than slightly off kilter. It's always surprising how far good acting can carry a so-so movie as it does here. It may not make The Gift worth it, but it certainly helps.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated R for violence, language, and sexuality/nudity.

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