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Film: The Gift
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Katie Holmes and Keanu Reeves
This was a movie that I’m pretty shocked I didn’t more about. I’ve seen the images of Katie Holmes topless from it, mostly because I would have been at peak adolescence with the internet and her being Katie Holmes. I’m also a Sam Raimi fan, who is the director. For whatever reason, this movie avoided me. I did hear a podcast talk about this before showing a movie at the Gateway Film Center and that intrigued me, but it wasn’t until The Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Challenge Series for the 2000s that I finally gave it a go. The synopsis here is a fortune teller with extrasensory perception is asked to help find a young woman who has mysteriously disappeared.
For this movie, we’re following Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett). She is a widowed mother to three boys. Her husband died tragically in a fire at his work. At the moment, she is living off social security as well as donations for reading people’s fortunes. One of her clients is Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank). We see that someone is beating her up and we learn it is her husband Donnie. Despite the warnings she is getting from Annie, she can’t leave him.
Annie is trying to get by with what little she has, including the help from a local mechanic Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi). We can see there are some issues there as he breaks down trying to give Annie a ride home. There are repressed memories there that cause him to have violent outburst. Also with outbursts, Annie has to go to school for her eldest son Mike (Lynnsee Provence). He’s harboring a lot of rage about what happened to his father. It is there we meet Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear) who I believe is the principal as well as his fiancé, Jessica King (Holmes).
Things take a turn for Annie when Donnie (Keanu Reeves) comes to her place and threatens her as well as her children. If she doesn’t stay away from his wife, he’s going to hurt them. Valerie comes to apologize, which escalates the issues even more. Living in a small town though doesn’t help her as the police don’t believe that Donnie is capable of what Annie believes.
The town is rocked when Jessica goes missing. Annie starts getting visions of what could have happened to her and this brings Wayne, Jessica’s father Kenneth (Chelcie Ross) along with the sheriff Pearl Johnson (J.K. Simmons). Under pressure, she can’t pick up any clues, but she has a dream that points her in the direction of Donnie. He claims he was framed and Jessica was seeing more than just him. The truth of what happened is darker than we first believe.
That’s where I want to leave this recap and I have to say, this movie really does play very well as a dark, supernatural murder mystery film. This does seem like the natural progression of movies would got in the 1990’s where murder mysteries were the thing and I think that Raimi did a really good job at taking this into the horror genre while still keeping the depths of the characters.
First I really need to speak about Annie. I think it is an interesting setting to have this placed in what I’m assuming is Louisiana. There is the rich history of voodoo, which Annie is claiming to follow, but really doesn’t. She uses these special cards that help guide her to know things she shouldn’t. While Donnie is threatening her, he calls her a witch, that she is worshipping Satan and states he will use a voodoo doll on her. She is really just a tragic character. Blanchett does an amazing job here and I come to expect that. I’ve never seen her in a bad role. She just is trying to make ends meet with her meager life while raising her children alone and helping those around her when she can.
Next I want to shift it to Donnie. I was shocked to see Reeves playing this character, but he does it so well. I’m not always the biggest fan of him as he is hit or miss a lot with roles. I thought fort his one it is on the better side of his performances. It plays this ‘insecure redneck’ so well, where it feels like if John Wick had no morals and is just a bully. I was quite impressed with him as a villain in this movie.
From here I want to take it to the depth of this story. I’ve already said my piece on Annie. She has a crush on Wayne, but still is loyal to her dead husband which I commend. She is the only friend to Buddy and his whole story line is sad. Annie isn’t dedicating the time that he needs and he’s not actually seeking real treatment for the trauma he endured as a child. It really is heartbreaking to be honest. To bring this back to Wayne, he seems like a good guy. He is engaged to the most beautiful young woman in town in Jessica. She’s quite wild though and I think a lot of this is growing up with money. She is able to get away with things. I don’t think she should be killed for that, as I don’t like what she is doing behind Wayne’s back. She needed to be an adult and be who she is without the façade that she needs to keep up.
There is something in this movie that I don’t always like and that is the dream sequence. I’m forgiving here though. Annie has visions which help her to know the things that she does. What I like for this movie is that it blurs lines. We get a longer one where she is visited by her grandmother, Rosemary Harris, which actually sets the stage for something later in the movie.
That will take me next to the acting where I’ll just briefly go over the ones I haven’t yet. Ribisi was really good in this broken character he takes on. He’s another actor that I’m sad to see he doesn’t do more, but he does a really good job in the smaller role he has here. Holmes doesn’t have a large role either, but I like her as this Southern woman with a wild side. Plus, seeing her topless in her underwear doesn’t hurt. Kinnear is solid as well as Swank, Gary Cole and Simmons with shout-outs in their bit parts to Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Ross and Harris.
The last thing that I really wanted to go over would be the effects. This movie doesn’t have a lot of them, but it also doesn’t need them. I did like that they play with the look of the frame. There is times when we know it is a dream sequence, while others are blurred which works for me. Aside from that, I thought the make-up for Jessica when she is dead was solid. It is pretty creepy as well. Other than that, the cinematography was solid and I had no issues there.
With that said, I’m glad that I finally got a chance to see this movie. It is an interesting murder mystery with a supernatural element. The interesting story with its twists and turns is aided by how strong of a cast that we have here. While watching the credits, I was shocked as seeing the cast we had here. This explores some flawed characters and I think that helps to question things we are seeing. Overall I would say this movie is a good movie and one that I would like to see again now that I know how it ends.
My Rating: 8 out of 10