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The Gift

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Gift

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Greg Kinnear
Director: Sam Raimi
Rated: R
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genres: Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Gary Cole, Stuart Greer, Katie Holmes, Giovanni Ribisi, Hilary Swank, Michael Jeter, Danny Elfman

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Perhaps it's no fair to compare Dominik Moll's excellent Hitchcockian thriller "With a Friend Like Harry" to Sam Raimi's "The Gift." Moll does not include a psychic in his more earthy tale of an unfortuitous meeting between an ordinary guy who teaches French to Japanese students in Paris and an old school chum he meets in a gas station rest room. While Raimi's story features at least two psychos who feel threatened by a psychic, Moll does better by focusing on just one. "With a Friend Like Harry" gains suspense by avoiding special effects: more is less in that murder mystery. "The Gift" is the sort of movie that makes one think of novels that begin "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night." Unoriginal? That would be the way to describe Raimi's by-the-numbers tingler which for all its supernatural elements lacks the exceptional performances he got out of his actors in "A Simple Plan"--his previous work that like "The Gift," deals with an event that snowballs into a tsunami of tension. To Raimi's credit this time around, though, he keeps the occultism on a short leash, tossing in just a single cheap bathtub shot that could have come out of Robert Zemeckis's "What Lies Beneath."

This southern Gothic yarn, filmed in Savannah, Georgia, is set in the backwoods of that state, a place whose residents may no longer leave their doors unlocked by whose wooden houses bear fragile doors and windows easily accessible to people with evil thoughts on their mind. The principal character, Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett), is a psychic who feels guilty that she was unable to foresee and thereby prevent her husband's death a year earlier in an explosion. With three kids a small social security check, she makes a modest living with her deck of cards, acting more as the town's would-be social worker than anything resembling a gypsy fortune teller. But her gift is not without drawbacks. While she counsels the physically absued Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) to leave her redneck husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), she and her three young children are threatened by the violent knave. When the beaten and bloodied body of the whorish Jessica King (Katie Holmes) turns up in a pond on Donnie's property, Donnie becomes the chief suspect. But while Annie might let sleeping dogs lie, delighted that this creep is behind bars where he can beat up no more women, her moral sense tells her that he may not be the murderer.

As "The Gift" turns into a whodunnit, we in the audience place our bets on the perp's identity. Could that be Jessica's fiance, the handsome but considerably older school principal Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear)? Or perhaps the convicted man's wife, who suspects Jessica of having an affair with her husband? Maybe the evildoer is the off-the-wall nut-case garage mechanic, Buddy Cole (Giovanina Ribisi), whose soul is tainted with a fierce anger toward his father and whose periodic tantrums show him physically and psychologically capable of irrational mayhem.

Cate Blanchett does show her breadth, her ability to play nothing short of Queen Elizabeth in one year and a poor, working girl in the boonies now. But Raimi has given Giovannia Ribisi, whose energy was nicely channeled in his performance as a stockbroker in the excellent "Boiler Room," an off-the-wall demeanor that simply does not ring true. Raimi seems unsure whether to make Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson's script into something of the "Exorcist" genre or a typical whodunnit mystery, but in either case "The Gift," scheduled for a holiday release, is of the sort that has stuffed many a Christmas stocking for decades.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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