The Gift promised to be a quality film in the supernatural thriller genre. The cast chosen looks strong, Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi, Sam Raimi directs and the reviews were fairly good. However the film falls short of its promise and is only saved from becoming completely boring and cliched by the acting skills of Blanchett and Ribisi.
The story is set in the, swamp and redneck ridden, South of America. Cate Blanchett plays Annie Wilson, a psychic who tells fortunes in order to support herself and her three kids. Hilary Swank is the battered wife who comes to visit her, leading to the furious anger of her psycho husband played by Keanu Reeves. Giovanni Ribisi pops up as the mentally ill mechanic friend of Annie and Katie Holmes plays the dim-witted slapper who is destined to die.
The film starts off slowly, setting the scene and introducing the main characters. Annie makes the mistake of advising the battered wife to leave her husband and this results in nice Keanu turning nasty and threatening her. She begins to have visions, occasional glimpses into the future and the past. These scenes were handled particularly well as you may expect from Raimi, they each had a dreamy surreal quality but the idea is nothing new.
After she starts to assist the police with the investigation into the murder of the town bimbo, things escalate towards a twisty turny finish. The story is not really very original, many of the characters are too familiar and it is really only the hard working cast who breathe life into this. Raimi is good as always, he knows how to create tension, how to shock and how to build an atmosphere but I don´t think the material here is strong enough, although I must admit to liking the ending.
Cate Blanchett is a fantastic actress, this time effortlessly affecting a Southern accent, she comes across as a warm and helpful person but she ain´t too sensible. She plays the part brilliantly and manages to make a fairly unlikely character both believable and likeable. At times her character is annoyingly obtuse but this comes with the genre, I also wondered about her conveniently disappearing children who always seem to be elsewhere.
Keanu Reeves got some good reviews for this but I was not impressed. He plays a fairly monosyllabic redneck but the extent of the transformation from dopey good guy to evil psycho appears to have been the growth of a beard. Hollywood does seem to believe that growing a beard completely changes someone from good to evil, I don´t think beards can really be blamed. Anyway Reeves is competent but nothing special, the part did not need him.
I thought both Hilary Swank and the fiance of the murdered bimbo, whose name escapes me, were awful. Sorry but their acting was lazy, over the top, cliched and out of place. Neither of them are really at a high standard and this is shown up clearly by the obvious talents of Blanchett and Ribisi.
Giovanni Ribisi is brilliant; his performance in this film is simply stunning. He plays a struggling mechanic who has obviously had serious problems in the past and Blanchett tries to help him. Ribisi makes the character totally believable and certain scenes are hard to watch because his acting performance was so intense and thoughtful. The scene where he sees Reeves hassling the kid was superb; he acted old Keanu off the screen totally.
The film looks nice, the settings are good, the creepy swamps of the South, the isolation and the dangerous attitudes are all nicely picked up on. The story is shaky in places but has time for some nice twists and a good ending. The film does feel disjointed though and the first part is almost like a cliched film in itself but there is more to come which goes some way towards ruining the twist. Also Blanchett´s character is too involved, I think a woman with three kids would be more careful with her own life.
Overall this is still an entertaining film which I would recommend purely for the pleasure of watching Ribisi and Blanchett. Tired, slow and cliched yet there are still enough touches of quality to make it watchable and even enjoyable in places.