Retro Review: The Gift

Written: January 15, 2001

Ever wish that you had proof of psychic phenomena? Ever wonder if this kind of magic exists? What if that kind of phenomena inhabited a widowed mother of three in the Southern US? These and many other questions are asked as director Sam Raimi allows the audience to unwrap his film, “The Gift”.

“The Gift” refers to a hidden clairvoyant power dwelling in a recently widowed mother of three. Her name is Annie Wilson (played by Cate Blanchett) and she is doing her very best to raise her three boys. To make ends meet and help keep away money collectors, Annie takes readings for people. Readings, as she calls them, roughly translate as brief glimpses into a client’s future with the help of a deck of basic tarot cards.

Annie’s readings have become a phenomenon as she caters to a wide range of people in her community. Some of Annie’s clients include Valerie, (Hilary Swank) an abused housewife who is hopelessly lost, and Buddy, a tormented mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi).

During a reading Valerie speaks to Annie about her heavily abusive husband, Donny (Keanu Reeves). She talks about leaving him but worries he may kill her. Annie pleads with Valerie to leave Donny. Valerie shrugs it off and leaves. That very night, Annie hears a heavy knocking on her door. She looks out and sees that Donny has come a calling. Donny explodes after he is let in. He threatens Annie and her three boys. Donny screams, “Satan will come for you witch!!” as he stomps out the door.

As Annie’s confrontations with Donny continue the town is gripped by a vicious disappearance. The town’s richest girl, Jessica King (Katie Holmes), has disappeared and suspected to be murdered. Desperate to find the girl, the town sheriff, the Jessica’s father and her fiancé (Greg Kinnear) approach Annie for a reading. Once the reading begins you know that this film is headed for an apocalyptic confrontation. What happened to Jessica and who is responsible?

“The Gift” is a brilliantly written film that really draws the audience into the small town and its quirky residents. I loved how the language and nature of the people so captivated a hometown atmosphere.

Director Sam Raimi was brilliant in bringing together another beautiful cast. Heading that cast with one of the stand out performances is Cate Blanchett, whose poignant depiction as the town’s seer is dramatic and brilliant. This actress really knows how to blend and dissolve into each role she plays.

Another standout is Katie Holmes, who is delicious, as a venomous spoiled tart who sleeps with three of the leading men. Holmes has vanquished her shy girl image with this role. The final standout had to be the villain of the story, Donny played beautifully by Keanu Reeves. Keanu commands a lot of hatred from the audience and does so with finesse.

Aside from this brilliance, Raimi’s film isn’t totally flawless. Where the flaws may occur are in the subplots and in a couple bored actors who don’t really have a chance to shine. The actors I refer to are Ribisi, Swank and Kinnear.

These performances do the job and make the film interesting but they really don’t allow any stretch for these actors.

In some scenes Kinnear will shrug up the wrinkles on his forehead and deliver a brooding look. Maybe it’s just me but it seemed a little forced even for Kinnear. My problem with Ribisi is that I have seen this kind of performance from him before and his subplot involving his father was quite harsh.

Finally I come to Swank, who really can’t be held accountable for her performance. She basically did her job, collected the paycheck and went home. There really wasn’t enough meat in the character of Valerie to really emerge further. For the most part these atmosphere imperfections couldn’t be helped but they did bug me a little.

The script, the standouts and the direction are brilliant. “The Gift” is a good film.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

2 thoughts on “Retro Review: The Gift

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