The Gift (2000) Movie Review
The latest from Sam Raimi (For Love of the Game) is a muddled thriller, filled with tired clichés and some of the worst casting in years. Raimi, along with screenwriters Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, try so hard to create a "serious" psychic chiller that the film is practically drained of any excitement.
The person "seeing dead people" in this one is Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett), a widowed mother of three in a small Southern town (where else would Thornton set a story?). She's a well-known seer, doling out "fortune teller" information to the locals for a fee, and sometimes giving them just good 'ol advice.
Exploiting every white trash stereotype, the filmmakers give Annie a clientele that makes The Jerry Springer Show look like My Three Sons. Oscar winner Hilary Swank gets her ass beaten regularly by a hateful, lunatic husband (Keanu Reeves!), and the local auto mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi) looks for help within his abusive, bipolar world. At times, the depression is so one-dimensional and cartoonish, it's tough not to laugh a little.
When a local rich girl (Katie Holmes) goes missing before her wedding, Annie is asked to tell what she knows, whether it be from armchair gossip or actual visions. Of course, law enforcement is typically skeptical, and Raimi and writers have thrown in enough thin characters to make you think anyone could be responsible for the girl's disappearance.
While that may be a good strategy to keep an audience guessing, the dialogue and tension are so woefully thin that we don't give a damn in the long run anyway. Where are the Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson that wrote the excellent One False Move? This has none of that film's creativity or development.
And although Raimi does provide some fuller, more introspective moments, a la A Simple Plan, they come too little, too late. The only real reason to dig in to The Gift are Blanchett and Ribisi: She practically disappears into her caring character, struggling with a slew of problems both internal and external, and Ribisi's turn as Buddy Cole is a guts-on-the-line performance of raw pain and terror.
Other than that, Reeves, Holmes, Greg Kinnear, and Gary Cole are either misplaced, wasted, or overacting. And do we really need to see Michael Jeter as a smarmy defense attorney?! Bad casting, a thin script, and a scary movie with no fright: Another unfortunate slip in the curious career of Sam Raimi.
Gift or curse?