Screaming Streaming Movie Review: THE GIFT (2000)

Streaming Video Movie Review:  THE GIFT (2000)
By Michael Arruda

The Gift poster

With Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) coming to theaters this weekend, I decided to check out one of his earlier movies, THE GIFT (2000), currently available on Streaming Video.

THE GIFT is a tale of psychic phenomena, murder and the supernatural, set in the Deep South.

Annie (Cate Blanchett), a widow who’s raising her young boys on her own, is a psychic working out of her home in the back woods of rural Georgia.  She treats various clients who are looking for answers regarding their future and their past.

Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), for example, is a disturbed young man who is searching for clues to his troubled past, as he’s haunted by an image of a sinister blue diamond.  Annie also treats Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) who is stuck in a dead end relationship with her violently abusive husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), and Donnie is none too happy about his wife seeking Annie’s services, and as a result he threatens both Annie and her children.

When a woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes) disappears under mysterious circumstances, the woman’s fiancé Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), the principal where Annie’s children attend school, turns to Annie for help when the local sheriff (J.K. Simmons) fails to find any leads.  Annie’s visions lead her to suspect Donnie, and the evidence supports her visions.  Donnie is arrested, charged with murder, and brought to trial by the district attorney David Duncan (Gary Cole), who it turns out has secrets of his own regarding young Jessica King.

As the trial goes on, Annie begins to doubt her initial visions regarding Donnie’s guilt and soon finds her life threatened by those who can’t afford to allow her to use her gift to uncover the truth.

I liked THE GIFT a lot, and my favorite part of this thriller was its first-rate cast.  Leading the way is Cate Blanchett as Annie.  Blanchett comes off as softer and more vulnerable here than in most of the roles I associate with her, in movies such as THE AVIATOR (2004), INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) and, more recently, HANNA (2011).

As the psychologically disturbed Buddy, Giovanni Ribisi delivers the best performance in the film.  I like Ribisi a lot, enjoying him most recently in GANGSTER SQUAD (2013).  Here, he plays a very troubled guy who values his relationship with Annie, as she’s the only person who is willing to listen to him and lift a finger to help him.

The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Hilary Swank is perfect as the young wife who should take Annie’s advice and leave her abusive husband, but as she tells Annie, she can’t leave Donnie because she has nowhere else to go and feels as if she’s nothing without him.

Keanu Reeves comes on very strong as the impulsive and overly violent Donnie, perhaps too strong.  He plays things over the top throughout, making Donnie completely unsympathetic, a total jerk, and in the process one-dimensional.

On the other hand, Greg Kinnear is sufficiently sympathetic as the grieving fiancé, while Katie Holmes shines as the volatile young vixen, Jessica, who doesn’t think twice about cheating on her man or laughing in his face.  Ouch!

Both J.K. Simmons as the sheriff and Gary Cole as the district attorney add fine support to the proceedings.

THE GIFT was Sam Raimi’s last film before he ventured into the SPIDERMAN trilogy with Tobey Maguire.  It’s a fine thriller and a completely different animal from the campy and over the top EVIL DEAD movies, but a compelling drama all the same.  There’s a chilling subtlety to it that reminded me a lot of Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN (1998).

Interestingly enough, the screenplay to THE GIFT was written by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton.  Thornton, of course, starred in Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN.  For the most part, the story works.  I did have a problem with the ending for a couple of reasons.  For starters, I saw the conclusion coming ahead of time, and secondly I’m not sure I completely buy the story as it plays out.  It involves a ghost, and this ghost does something I’m not completely sure ghosts should be able to do.

But I liked the characters in the movie, and I especially cared for Annie and Buddy.  I would have preferred it had Keanu Reeves’ Donnie been a little less one-dimensional.  He’s not sympathetic in the least, and the local authorities would be fools if they didn’t suspect Donnie of the crime.

The main murder mystery is okay, although it really isn’t much of mystery.  If you pay attention, you can figure things out ahead of time.

I did like the scene where Donnie threatens Annie’s son, and Buddy arrives to intervene and save the boy.  I found Buddy’s storyline particularly disturbing, especially when he finally solves the mystery from his past regarding the meaning of the blue diamond. This revelation takes place in a very sad, chilling scene.

I did struggle to believe that Katie Holmes’s hot and sexy Jessica would be at all interested in Greg Kinnear’s quiet, conservative school principal, Wayne Collins.  Of course, Jessica explains in one of her tirades that she’s only interested in Wayne because of her father, but why her father wants her to marry a school principal is beyond me.  It’s not like Wayne is wealthy or politically connected.  This plot point seemed forced to me, an obvious set-up to the “surprise” conclusion which, as I said, you can pretty much figure out ahead of time.

But overall I really liked THE GIFT.  It would be hard not to like this one, given that it has such a solid cast.

So, to wrap things up— heh heh—THE GIFT is a better-than-average mystery thriller with a very strong cast, a decent story with characters I liked and cared for, and a talented director, Sam Raimi, at the helm, pretty much doing his thing.

I give it three knives.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE GIFT ~ three knives!


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