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The Gift

review by Ren C.

Rated R

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 111 minutes

Starring Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Katie Holmes

Written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson

Directed by Sam Raimi

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Featurette, Music Video, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital English 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, Scene Selection

Released: July 17th, 2001

"The Gift" is one of those films that just seemed to slip under the collective radar of the movie going public early this year being almost completely overlooked both from a commercial and critical standpoint. This is unfortunate, especially considering the amount of talent both behind and in front of the camera. I was amazed at the number of quality actors present in this film, among them Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, and Greg Kinnear. I was also surprised to learn that Billy Bob Thornton, also noted for writing and starring in "Sling Blade" wrote the screenplay. Sam Raimi, noted for directing such movies as "Evil Dead" and "Army of Darkness" is at the helm here, and does a good job of ensuring that all the actors mesh.

"The Gift" is a mix between a thriller and a whodunit. The story centers on Annie Wilson (Blanchett), who is forced to make a living for herself and her children after her husband's unfortunate and tragic death. She does so by offering "readings" of ESP cards, by using the psychic ability, or gift, that she possesses. By using this ability, she comes to know the local residents, and to become involved in their lives, especially the life of Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) who Annie encourages to leave her husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves) because he is abusive. He takes offense at this, and starts to threaten her children. Annie is worried, with good reason, but doesn't go to the police.

Annie is also involved with her son's teacher Wayne (Kinnear), and his fiancé Jessica King (Katie Holmes). It is around this time that she starts to have disturbing nightmares that she cannot seem to interpret. It is also around this time that Jessica disappears. The police are clueless, and turn to Annie in hopes that she will be able to use her gift to help. The question becomes; can Annie use her gift and interpret her dreams in time to save Jessica from a horrible fate?

This plot description only skims the surface of the many different levels that are present in this movie. Another very powerful performance comes from Giovanni Ribisi, playing Buddy, the town mechanic who suffers from delusions. Ribisi may well give the best performance of his career here, taking a character that may have been over the top in the hands of another actor and making it very nuanced. I also am very impressed with Blanchett who seems to completely submerge her English accent in favor of a generic southern accent. The other actors work as well, to varying degrees, with Katie Holmes especially seeming to be slightly out of place as the town belle.

The movie as a whole, however, seemed to lack that certain something that it needed to gel. At times, the actors seemed to exist in their own worlds before coming together, and several characters seemed to be in the movie for no apparent reason. I also had a problem with the ending that seemed to come out of left field. However, these slight problems are not enough to bring down what is otherwise a very enjoyable movie.

The anamorphic transfer of this movie looks very good and holds up to my very high standards for recently released movies. As with most thrillers, there is a lot of black in the movie, and it looks very dark and rich. The other colors were vibrant and flesh tones were not saturated. I noticed only a very few small blemishes on the transfer, which were certainly not enough to detract from enjoyment of the movie.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounded very eerie, with ambient sounds coming through especially well. Some of the scenes in the woods were aided by the sounds that we tend to take for granted at night, such as wind and woodland creatures. Dialogue was very clear, and the select amount of music used in the movie was present enough to be heard but not overpowering. Also available are an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track and a French Dolby 2.0 track, along with English subtitles and closed captions.

While nothing groundbreaking is present, this is a nice collection of features, especially for what are generally lackluster Paramount discs. The major supplement is a featurette on the making of "The Gift", which runs about ten minutes and rehashes the plot of the movie and how the actors felt about it. The featurette is really notable only for contrasting the way that Cate Blanchett can change her accent seemingly at will.

Also included is a music video by the new to me Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, who serve up "Furnace Room Lullaby". I don't recall hearing this song in the movie, but the video is the typical soundtrack video, mixing clips from the movie with clips of the artist. Definitely an unusual song, but nice that it was provided. Wrapping up the features is the theatrical trailer in Dolby Digital 2.0.

I think that "The Gift" is one of those movies that get better with each viewing. Again, while not a box office hit, the movie is interesting and certainly a change from the norm. If you are a fan of any of the actors involved, especially Giovanni Ribisi, or just enjoy a good thriller, definitely check this movie out. Recommendation to rent first, especially considering the fairly steep retail price.

(3.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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