Cate Blanchett keeps "The Gift" (IMDb listing) from experiencing a full-blown meltdown. With a collection of simple glances and measured movements, she holds the shreds of this ragged story together. It's a tremendous effort. It's an award-worthy effort. It's also a futile effort. Blanchett's legacy as "The Gift's" savior is usurped the moment Katie Holmes
exposes her breasts.
"The Gift" has the predictability of a five-day desert forecast. Blanchett ("Elizabeth") plays Annie Wilson, a widow who provides for her three young sons by offering psychic
readings to her small-town neighbors. Annie isn't a fraud; she's a legitimate clairvoyant whose gifts are grudgingly employed by investigators when a beautiful local woman (Holmes) disappears. Annie uses her supernatural feelers
to lead police to the backyard pond of the town's resident wife
beater, Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves). A trial sends
Barksdale to prison, but days later Annie's psychic claxon horn
blows and she realizes Barksdale isn't the killer. With the wrong man in jail, the story becomes a sputtering whodunit that wheezes to a deus ex machina conclusion.
Someone should have told screenwriters Billy Bob Thorton and Tom Epperson that deus ex machina is a flowery synonym for "cop out." Their screenplay wants to be a supernatural
thriller that moves with clever strides, coaxing the audience along
its murky path and culminating in an unexpected finale. Aiming
for the upper echelon of suspense is noble, but this script doesn't have a chance in hell of hitting
its lofty mark. Thorton and Epperson burden the cliched characters
with heavy doses of country ignorance. They spew pop-psychology advice "You can't keep running" and laughable warnings "You mess with the Devil and you'll get burned!" The setting is
equally lame: A rural southern town full of backwoods psychosis
and moist ponds perfect for body dumping. With this script, "The
Gift" is closer to John Grisham than Alfred Hitchcock.
Inexplicably, the screenplay attracted Cate Blanchett. Armed with
her remarkable blue eyes and a finely-tuned southern accent
(she's Australian), Blanchett takes the script's flimsy character and
molds Annie into an engaging protagonist. The other players
Greg Kinnear, Giovanni Ribisi, Hillary
Swank are decent, but the only notable supporting turn comes from Keanu Reeves. He's menacing and forceful,
which is an odd thing to say about a guy who routinely "whoas" his
way through his movies.
Bringing depth to a Keanu Reeves performance is an accomplishment, but further accolades for "Gift" director Sam
Raimi can't be delivered. The filmmaking cliches that made
Raimi's "Army of Darkness" so campy and fun are annoying when
removed from a comedic realm. The sound of a beating heart, or
blood dripping from a leaky faucet, can be forgiven when the main
character has a chainsaw in lieu of a hand, but here Raimi's use
of tired devices sucks the tension out of "The Gift." His reliance on
cockeyed camera angles is also troublesome. It provides creative
juxtaposition, but often feels forced.
Raimi's filmmaking is better suited for lighter fare, but his direction
of "The Gift" isn't the epicenter of the film's failure. The script is the
pitfall. With Blanchett as the star, Thorton and Epperson should
have bestowed her with fertile material worthy of her talent.
Instead, they produced the first draft of a flawed thriller.
Filmfodder Grade: C