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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Gift
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2001
With a story and setting that could lead a director and cast down the well-travelled road of Southern Gothic cliches, THE GIFT instead rewards the viewer with intelligence, suspenseful and effective direction, and some superb acting by a very talented ensemble. Bily Bob Thornton had a hand in writing the screenplay, so the quality there should come as no surprise. The plot twists are expected as well, but they are done with such care and expertise that the audience is never really sure where they are leading.
Cate Blanchett stars as Annie Wilson, a young widow with three sons to raise -- her husband was killed a year before the story in a work-related accident. She and the boys survive on a social security check each month -- to further make ends meet, she gives 'readings' to various members of the small Georgia community of Brixton, calling her talent a 'gift'. She accepts donations, but doesn't set prices -- she doesn't come across as a sideshow fortune teller here. She doesn't have the power to read minds -- or, in a courtroom scene, to tell an attorney how many fingers he's holding up behind his back -- and she never makes any claims in that area. Her gift comes to her in the form of visions or dreams -- sometimes they occur when she's giving a reading, sometimes they come unexpectedly.
One of her clients is a battered wife (Hilary Swank) of a angry, ignorant redneck (played with frightening reality by Keanu Reeves) -- she advises the woman to leave her husband before he puts her in the hospital, advice that sends him to her home to threaten her and her children when he learns of it. Another of her clients, an extremely troubled man named Buddy, is given an outstanding portrayal by Giovanni Ribisi -- the character is seething with (believable) inner torment, which, as the story progresses, we see to be long-buried anger toward his father. Ribisi infuses his character with an incredible level of emotion and vulnerability. Greg Kinnear plays Wayne, the handsome school principal engaged to a beautiful but fairly trampy daughter of a successful local businessman. When this woman turns up missing and local law enforcement runs out of leads, the skeptical sheriff reluctantly turns to Annie for help. Through a series of visions, she aids them in finding the body, the violent redneck is arrested and put on trial...and then the twists begin. From here, you're on your own...NO SPOILERS! Suffice to say that the twists and turns don't always lead where you think they will.
Aside from the well-written story, the skillful direction, and the superb acting in this film, the thing that jumped out at me was noticing how many of these characters were in deep denial of their own primal pain. In one scene, one of Annie's sons asks her at bedtime why they don't go more often to visit their father's grave, why they don't talk about him. She replies by telling him to go to bed, that she wants to read. In doing this, her character is, in effect, telling this child (perhaps not intentionally) that his feelings don't matter -- but at the same time, she's denying her own pain, perhaps stemming from her husband's death. Hilary Swank's battered wife character is in denial that she doesn't deserve to live as a punching bag, that there might be a better way to go through her life. Keanu Reeves redneck Donnie is in denial of his own violent, woman-hating, hungry-for-control nature. The high school principal is blind to the fact that his wife-to-be is a trollop who neither loves nor respects him. And most touchingly, we see Giovanni Ribisi take his character through some very moving realizations about his own childhood and his relationship with his father.
The film is very dark and suspenseful -- and at times very jarring in its imagery and violence, but these moments are brief. It's certainly not exploitive in this regard. It's extremely entertaining -- I don't think most viewers would lose interest as it moves along -- but mostly it's very revealing about the way we humans deal with the primal pain that we all hold within us. Ribisi's character describes it very accurately as a wall in his head that he can't get past -- until we face whatever it iis that iis causing us pain, and deal with it as it stands, we won't get past it, and it will continue to torment us and, in some cases, rule over us. We each have to realize that we need to feel the hurt in order to begin to heal -- not a very attractive prospect, perhaps, but a realistic one.
This outstanding film shines a bright light on this aspect of the human psyche -- it's something from which we could all benefit in viewing more closely. Audiences may have been uncomfortable with this film in theatres because of this aspect -- and they may not have realized why.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
This is an interesting movie with a stellar cast. The performances are notable, particularly that of Giovanni Ribisi, who plays a mentally troubled auto mechanic who is on the verge of a complete meltdown. Keanu Reeves also does a star turn, as Hilary Swank's abusive and philandering husband. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the young, impoverished widow with kids, who just happens to have psychic gifts. The always underrated Greg Kinnear gives his usual excellent performance.
The action takes place in a rural Georgia town, where Cate reads cards for clients in an attempt to make ends meet. Hilary Swank is one of Cate's clients. Cate counsels her to leave her abusive and womanizing husband, played by Keanu Reeves. This just earns Cate the emnity of Keanu, who begins a campaign of terror against her. Cate also reads cards for Giovanni Ribisi, who is a standout with his dazzling performance in the role of a mentally traumatized young man, whom Cate treats kindly.
Cate is called to her son's school one day, where she meets with Greg Kinnear over something her son did. While there, she meets meets his kittenish fiancee, well played by Katie Holmes, who recognizes Cate as the local psychic and asks what she sees in their future. What Cate sees does not bode well for them.
When Kinnear's fiancee predictably turns up murdered, the hunt is on for her killer. The obvious suspect is Keanu Reeves, who is tried and convicted for the murder, after Cate testifies at his trial. You see, the body was found in a pond on his property, after Cate had a vision about it, and Keanu had been having an affair with her and had been the last person known to have seen the deceased alive.
After the trial, however, Cate has visions that lead her to believe that the real killer has escaped justice. While there are a number of red herrings that are thrown the viewer's way, the viewer should have no trouble zeroing in on the real killer. What is surprising is the way Cate escapes death at the hands of that killer. Therein lies the real surprise. Viewers should enjoy this quirky, though interesting, film.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2001
"The Gift" is a quiet movie with strong performances, especially from my favorite person in the universe, Keanu Reeves. Here he plays a wife-beating redneck who can be polite and charming one minute, and terribly violent the next. He does a startling turn in this one, as do many others, including Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, and Giovanni Ribisi. Cate Blanchett is fine as a psychic in a small town, using her gift to help support her and her children since the death of her husband. Facing harrassment from Reeves' Donnie Barksdale, as well as being ridiculed in open court, Blanchett's Annie is quietly strong, yet somewhat fragile when it comes to her startlingly horrific visions. The setting is perfectly creepy (it was filmed in Savannah, GA,) and the film has a nice surprise ending, somewhat akin to "The Sixth Sense." I highly reccomend "The Gift."
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2001
A wonderful treat for mystery lovers... Fantastic star cast is the icing on top of an excellent plot. The cast led by Cate Blanchett is accompanied by Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, Keanu Reeves, Greg Kinnear and Giovani Ribisi. Rabisi, for his role as a emotionally disturbed man who finds solace in the character of Cate Blanchett, deserves at the very least an Oscar nomination. Keanu Reeves also gives a performance worth noticing of an abusive husband to Hilary Swank. Katie Holmes up to the mark as the promiscuous, rich young woman of the small little town in Georgia, where the movie is set. As Holmes' fiancé Greg Kinnear plays a perfect southern gentleman with brilliant ease. The supernatural psychic powers of Cate Blanchett's character are the connotation of the title of the movie. The movie revolves around the disappearance and then murder of Holmes' character. The mystery unfolds as Blanchett gets premonitions leading to the real culprit. The film is grasping frame by frame. It is very delicately handled as required by the scripts involving paranormal activities, this is a worth see and own movie.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2002
In this movie co-written by Billy Bob Thornton (with Tom Epperson), director Sam Raimi successfully produces an enjoyable often edge of the seat part courtroom, part psychic gothic thriller, starring the excellent Aussie actress Cate Blanchett and a fine ensemble cast.
Set in small town Georgia, Blanchett plays Annie Wilson, a financially struggling, recently widowed, lonely single parent who uses her card reading psychic ability to pay the bills. Among her clients are a battered wife, Valerie Barksdale (wonderfully played by Hilary Swank) and a traumatised local mechanic named Buddy Cole (brilliantly played by Giovanni Ribisi), who is struggling to hold onto his sanity. Traumatised by recurring visions surrounding the death of local tramp Jessica King (Katie Holmes), she sets out to help the police find the body and find the killer. The prime suspect is Donnie Barksdale played by Keanu Reeves, who gives a passable performance, as Swank's violent wife-beating bully of a husband. He was known to be having an affair with Holmes and previously threatened to kill Annie and so starts the courtroom drama that dominates the middle of the film.
The strength of this gothic noir movie really is in the suspense, the expectation of doom and the excellent performances from Blanchett, Ribisi and Swank, with good support from Katie Holmes. It is subtly directed by Raimi and he expertly brings a southern gothic feel to the whole movie. However, Keanu Reeves and Greg Wise (as Holmes fiancée) are not quite as strong and I felt the movie tailed off slightly at the end, with the inevitable slightly predictable `twist', which most people will see coming a mile off. That said it's well worth a view, definitely above average and a bit of a must for Blanchett and Raimi fans particularly.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2002
"The Gift" is a moody, atmospheric thriller that, despite its sometimes formulaic plot, soars on the strength of its ensemble cast. Cate Blanchett, already on a roll with films as diverse as "Elizabeth," "An Ideal Husband," and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," shines as Annie Wilson, a single mom who makes a living reading people's fortunes in a rural setting down south. An Australian in a pitch-perfect southern drawl, Blanchet sinks deeply into her role, making it one of the most underrated performances ever. Annie gets caught into a web of drama when she tries to counsel Valerie (Hilary Swank, back in "Boys Don't Cry" mode) who's being abused by her boorish, redneck husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves). To say the least, Donnie isn't thrilled to have his wife get counseling from a fortune teller, and he begins to threaten both Annie and her kids. All this leads to a murder mystery, which contains spoilers that I won't reveal. Director Sam Raimi, who also directed the solid "A Simple Plan" and this summer's "Spider-Man," does a competent job at moving the film at a decent pace, and performances from Greg Kinnear, Giovanni Ribisi, and Katie Holmes stand out as well. But while the spotlight belongs to Blanchett, the film's revelation is definitely Keanau Reeves, who--dare I say it--brings an intensity to his role that makes his redneck character truly disturbing. "The Gift" was one of the most slept-on films of 2000, and it definitely deserves a look.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2003
This stunner of a murder suspense thriller from Sam Raimi and Co. would have almost solely been carried by Cate Blanchett and her commanding screen presence, were it not for the haunting performance of Giovanni Ribisi as a simpleton town boy, or Keanu Reeves, who proved for once that he can act, in a gratingly negative role.
Blanchett plays a clairvoyant woman in a small town, tarot cards and all, but thankfully she isn't shown to be omniscient and in fact makes lots of mistakes which people with better education or just greater knowledge could have avoided. An interesting turn of events lead to a murder, and almost anyone of the many characters could have been culpable. Katie Holmes plays the gorgeous victim, which only makes it twice as sweet!
The suspense is contagious, the acting very convincing, and the background score is superb. Had me glued almost until the end, I did predict about 20 mins before the denouement who the killer could be, but that isn't too bad! I guess the movie's power lies in its character studies which happen to be wrapped in a homicide.
Highly recommend this immaculate blend of high-octane drama and supernatural horror. At the very least, it'll leave you with plenty to think about.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2001
I loved this movie so much, I saw it 4 times at the cinema. The all round cast of Keanu Reeves, Cate Blanchett, Hilary Swank, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes and Giovanni Ribisi gave it just the right mix to make it work.
I was very impressed by Keanu Reeves' performance as Donnie Barksdale, an overbearing, wife-beating redneck. I could tell Keanu rose to the challenge of such a demanding role. The abuse to his poor wife Valerie [Hilary Swank] was very realistic and Keanu had me scared.
I enjoyed Ms Blanchett as Annie Wilson. You can realy sympathise with her situation ~ losing a husband so young and having 3 boys to look after, trying to make ends meet by card reading. It didn't come across as hammy at all. She is a TOP actress.
The overall effects of the film are outstanding [Good 'ol Sam Raimi] and you don't notice this film was made on a shootstring budget.
The accompanying soundtrack is a MUST BUY. Although, not all the songs listed are in the actual film, it doesn't matter. It just enhances the enjoyment of this film. One of the best soundtracks around.
GO BUY THIS MOVIE!!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2001
Though I seem to be in the minority on this one, THE GIFT was one of the most exceptionally made films that I've seen in quite some time. Working with a script that has a twist for every turn that's made, Sam Raimi manages to provide several neat twists to what could have been a really tired story. The crux of the film is that there has been a murder in the film's small Georgia town, and with no leads, the police resort to seeking the counsel of the local psychic, played by Blanchett. As with most of her previous work, Cate Blanchett again owns the movie--unlike some of her contemporaries(namely the talented but sometimes ill-used Gwyneth Paltrow), Blanchett manages to flesh out any character that she's given, no matter how bad of a stinker movie she's in, but lucky for us she's in a pretty good one here. The rest of the casting is a mixed bag somewhat. Greg Kinnear plays the male lead, effective but not extraordinary, and the same can be said of Katie Holmes, sporting an overripe Southern accent as his fiancee. Keanu Reeves surprises as a backwoods wife-beater--he makes the best of a small role, easily his best acting since MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO(it's sometimes hard to forget that at one point in his career he actually ACTED). Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays Reeves' human punching bag, in a variation on her BOYS DON'T CRY role-she's also memorable, but needs to branch out from playing these victim roles. Rounding out the cast, Giovanni Ribisi again overracts in his umpteenth role as a mentally challenged individual, this time playing a client of Blanchett's psychic character. Again, Blanchett holds this superb film together--shame on the Oscars for not recognizing genre films, because Blanchett gave a truly nuanced, Oscar-worthy performance.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
"The Gift"'s biggest gift is Cate Blanchett, who expertly carries the entire plotline as a tarot-card reader in the deep South. This film suffers from one or two problematic actors and some cheesy visuals, but it's otherwise very creepy.
Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) lost her husband in an explosion, and now supports her three sons on her tarot-card readings, which use her psychic "gift." Among the people who seek her help are Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi), a young man scarred by childhood molestation, and Valerie (Hilary Swank), a weak young woman who lives in terror of her violent redneck husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves). Worse, Donnie is threatening both Annie and her children, claiming that she's a Satan-worshipper and a witch because of her tarot readings.
When Jessica (Katie Holmes), the seductive fiancee of a friend vanishes, Annie begins to have visions of what may have happened. The visions of white flowers, fences, and pondwater lead Annie and the skeptical police chief to Donnie's land, where the girl's body is found in the pond. Though at first Annie is convinced that Donnie is the one who murdered Jessica, her gift leads her to believe otherwise.
This movie just brims over with "Southernness," with lots of moss, mist, bigoted rednecks, swampy forests and dirty little secrets. It's not an amazing movie, despite the good actors and good direction, partly because many parts of it are a bit cliched. But it's haunting and creepy, and those who enjoyed "The Sixth Sense" may also enjoy "The Gift." (Annie sees dead people too!)
Cate Blanchett is, as always, stunning in whatever role she plays. This time it's a sort of tarot-reading madonna, and her expressive eyes and face can instantly flip from one emotion to another. Greg Kinnear plays Jessica's haunted fiancee, who has an eye for Annie; Hilary Swank is also very good as Valerie, as are the three boys who play Annie's children. Keanu Reeves was a problem, though. He's supposed to be a violent, cheating, raging redneck, but he wasn't very convincing.
Probably to call this a horror film isn't quite accurate. Though it's very creepy and horrific, it isn't gory or truly horrific. (The most horrifying scene doesn't involve dead people or visions, but the sexually-abused Buddy crying, shrieking and attacking his father) Actually, it sags when we get things like visions of Jessica, or rolling stormclouds -- these are a little too obvious for the otherwise eerie movie. And I was able to guess quite quickly who the murderer was, simply by considering who it would be too easy to think it was.
"The Gift" isn't an astounding movie, but quite a watchable one. Part Southern Gothic, part murder mystery, part horror/ghost flick, this is not something to watch with the lights off. Definitely nowhere near a pond.
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