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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.68%
Worth A Look43.86%
Average: 21.93%
Pretty Bad: 9.65%
Total Crap: 0.88%

9 reviews, 60 user ratings

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Gift, The (2001)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"An unwanted one, too."
2 stars

Sam Raimi's 'Spider-Man' was one of the most hotly awaited movies of 2002, and it's easy to see why: His previous three films -- 'A Simple Plan,' 'For Love of the Game,' and 'The Gift' -- were deadly dull, and his fans were hoping a big-budget superhero movie might wake him up.

It would be sad work to determine which of Raimi's late-'90s Hollywood films is the worst -- the most severe betrayal of the filmmaker he used to be -- though For Love of the Game may have the edge. The Gift is, like A Simple Plan, a respectable thriller anyone could have directed. There's not an ounce of Raimi's former playfulness in it; a vibrant director is dying before our eyes.

The pulpy-gothic script comes courtesy of Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, the former of whom might have served the movie better by appearing in it than by writing it. Thornton is a decent screenwriter -- the Academy obviously thought so, awarding his Sling Blade -- and he and Epperson contributed a valuable film noir entry in 1992, One False Move. But The Gift feels as if the duo had written it before One False Move -- it carries the stale odor of the trunk, and it trades complexity for complication. Such an amalgam of Southern-gothic clichés could have been fun if handled with wit and juice, but Raimi isn't that kind of director any more. He proceeds as though each scene deserved humorless precision.

Cate Blanchett doesn't quite make the movie worth seeing, but she does make herself worth seeing in it. She plays Annie Wilson, a Georgia psychic who reads fortunes for the troubled locals. Among her clientele are Valerie (Hilary Swank), who routinely displays fresh wounds from her despicable husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), and a discombobulated mechanic named Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi), whose suicidal impulses have something to do with his father. It would've been more fun if Annie were a bogus psychic, or at least a genuinely caring person who counsels people under the guise of fortune-telling, but apparently she's on the level. It's not long before she's having nightmarish visions of local tramp Katie Holmes and the waterlogged fate that may be in store for her.

Holmes goes out of the picture fast, so that we don't have to worry about her painful accent except in flashbacks, and the movie allegedly gets down to business: Annie's visions have led the police to the vicious Donnie, who is fingered for the murder, but Annie's not so sure. Ah, irony! The guy you think is the killer isn't actually the killer. Okay, who is it, then? Is it the vengeful Valerie, hoping to get her husband sent up for a long stretch? Is it the dead girl's fiancé (Greg Kinnear), a milquetoast principal? Is it the unstable Buddy? Is it the attorney (Gary Cole) who liked to meet Holmes for a quick bang in the office? Is it anyone we remotely care about? To this, at least, I can render an honest answer: No.

The Gift becomes a cruelly tedious whodunit, unredeemed by the local color of its setting (at times it's like a supernatural, made-for-TV version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). Except for poor Giovanni Ribisi, prompted to slobber all over the camera (he must never be asked to abandon his deadpan cool to this extent again), the actors acquit themselves competently, giving the naturalistic, television-level performances Raimi seems to require these days. (Watching Hilary Swank, I couldn't help thinking of her Brandon Teena with a wig on. She may pay a heavy price for that brilliant performance.) Keanu Reeves, you may have heard, acts his ass off as the scary husband. He does, but he also overdoes the character's redneck white-trashness, letting his voice slide into a deep Georgia rumble and generally overdoing Donnie's violent hatefulness to the point where you wonder why the cops didn't put him away long ago.

Blanchett does as much as her considerable talent will allow, but in the end she's beating her head against a flawless martyr role, a lone woman whom nobody will believe -- until they believe her wrongly, after which nobody believes her some more. She's also given Greg Kinnear as a love interest, and though Kinnear is a deft light comedian, you can't picture him with a woman like Cate Blanchett, who deserves a hot and funny guy to be sultry and playful with. Kinnear can be funny, but he's well-cast as a dull principal, and gives a performance to match. Much better, in a small but winning role, is the fine character actor J.K. Simmons, appearing in the middle film of his Raimi trilogy (he was in For Love of the Game and would later be in Spider-Man). Perhaps best known for his loathsome Nazi convict Vern Schillinger on HBO's Oz, Simmons has a way of investing his dialogue with casual but powerful authority (which makes his racist grumblings on Oz that much more appalling). He appears here as the skeptical town sheriff, who at crucial points of tension takes a meaningful pause, as if musing about the murder case, and then demands to know who ate the last eclair or whether anyone brought a Thermos of coffee. Aside from the unintentional laughs earned by Ribisi and Holmes, Simmons is the movie's only lifeline to humor.

I'd almost rather not write about The Gift -- it does hurt to be slamming a director whose past films (the Evil Dead trilogy, Darkman) are so dear to my heart. But if Raimi is going to do such a perfunctory thriller, can't he at least work up some brooding poetry? His handling of Annie's visions smacks of too many made-for-cable movies, and some of it feels left over from What Lies Beneath. (Raimi does permit one moment of spooky beauty, when a single bright spill of blood creeps down Cate Blanchett's pale cheek.) Towards the finish, the wrong side of our brains is engaged -- the dank atmosphere and what passes for characterization aren't allowed to enfold us, because we're too busy second-guessing the plot. By the time a deus ex machina in the form of a convenient apparition comes to save the day, most people will have thoroughly given up on the movie.

Who would have thought Sam Raimi could have made a film in which the dead are harmless, even helpful? For a backwoods supernatural thriller, 'The Gift' is only slightly more frightening than 'For Love of the Game.' Gone are the malicious trees of 'The Evil Dead,' which seemed to have a horrid life of their own even before they started ripping into people; the woods in this movie are just window dressing. So is everything else, including the director.

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originally posted: 01/24/07 10:57:59
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell good southern supernatural flick 4 stars
3/17/15 Dane Youssef A worthwhile southern supernatural noir. It's one of 2001's better. 5 stars
3/31/12 Sid Rumkowski Great film,has a "Slingblade" flavor to it. 5 stars
2/28/11 Monday Morning OK but just a little too slow. 3 stars
12/21/08 noops.... another good flick frm billy bob... Cate Blanchett as good as always 5 stars
2/11/07 Bitchflaps The inconsistent screenplay is rescued by skillful directing and compelling performances. 4 stars
1/10/07 David Pollastrini Katie Holmes is hot! Ditch tom! 3 stars
8/30/05 tatum "Murder, Steel Magnolias Wrote" 3 stars
7/28/05 jada good for tv viewing, wouldn't pay for it, cate great as usual 3 stars
6/22/04 teens the movie is great and now we have a remake of this film in india. 4 stars
3/05/04 john bale Some genuine shocks in this supernatural outing, thanks to Cate taking it seriously 4 stars
1/25/04 Elena So good except the awful, awful moronic ending that ruined everything. 4 stars
1/10/04 kaz morrison dream cast 5 stars
10/04/03 R.W. Welch Effectively done paranormal mystery, tho the ending is hard to buy. Top drawer acting. 4 stars
7/09/03 nr i loved this film it was great 5 stars
5/15/03 George Jung Tits! Now that I have your attention, this movie is perfect! Raimi is a perfect director. 5 stars
4/08/03 Shadaan Felfeli Its been a while since i saw the movie..but i recall enjoying it. Blanchet take a bow ! 4 stars
3/12/03 Blabity blah Great story telling. Blanchett/Reeves and Ribisi are EXCELLENT!! 5 stars
2/17/03 y2mckay Blanchett fantastic, not Raimi's best but good, Keanu actually acts. Oh, nice tits Katie 4 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby Holmes' boobs are nice; Reeves is scary; Blanchett is superb! 4 stars
9/23/02 .Choadushouse. Ribisi is amazing. Holmes gives me a huge boner. And the movie gave me the chills. 4 stars
9/18/02 palaboy101 surprisingly good thriller 4 stars
8/13/02 blakers a great film 5 stars
7/13/02 Edfink Lombardo One of the year's creepiest. Katie Holmes is so hot. 5 stars
5/22/02 Phoenix Nice tities. 5 stars
2/28/02 Alan Smithee Katie Holmes' too-brief topless scene is all this overwrought mess has going for it. 2 stars
2/22/02 Jeff all around excellent movie 5 stars
1/13/02 Phil M. Afficianado When it is "not your kind of film" but you still like it, it's a good thing. 4 stars
1/06/02 Unanon actually managed to keep my attention! Bloody spooky at times too. 4 stars
12/22/01 Caiphn Thorton wrote this, Keanu was in it.. but it wasn't bad. 4 stars
11/27/01 sdfr ostensibly a "ghost" story, the film turns out to be much much more at the end. Good stuff 4 stars
10/17/01 Hum very close to being a very good movie 4 stars
9/13/01 Gary Masterful direction and a routinely great Blanchett, but poorly scripted and predictable. 2 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk Creepiest fucking movie of the year! Too bad no one saw it! 5 stars
7/31/01 Monday Morning Thought Ribisi's/Reeves' characters were too over the top but film was still very good. 4 stars
7/22/01 Basil Giovanni Ribisi is excellent. 5 stars
7/20/01 greensweater boobies!! 4 stars
7/16/01 james shore there is to many parts were u r waitin to be scared 3 stars
5/04/01 Freak-77 Brilliant 5 stars
5/02/01 Geoff Only good things about this film. Katie Holmes showed us both of them. A truly lame effort. 2 stars
4/19/01 Tam A suspense thriller done well. Pretty good characterisation. 4 stars
3/27/01 JOSEPH LEEMAN katie homles was so hot in this movie 5 stars
3/20/01 Matthew Bartley Not very original but solidly done with the requisite shocks and scares 4 stars
3/04/01 Bob Cate Blanchett & Katie Holmes keep things intersting in this predictable but well-made crap 2 stars
2/24/01 Marie Very very boring. 1 stars
2/16/01 Rachem I really liked this flick... was sorta shocked that I did! 4 stars
2/13/01 HawthorneWingo Cate Blanchett character too much a freaking saint -- and the dead-husband subplot was crap 3 stars
2/12/01 Jake While not perfect, It was still astounding. Ribisi and Reeves were explosive! 5 stars
2/09/01 Keanuette Wonderfully suspenseful with a great all round cast, esp Keanu as Donnie *mo'fo* Barksdale 4 stars
2/09/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi A few minor ripoff vibes here and there, but why quibble?? Raimi & Co rules as always. 4 stars
2/09/01 Laura Pierce I took my hubby and he even liked it, so it has to be good! 5 stars
2/08/01 ObiWan Some genuinely exciting moments are in this film, but the ending ruins all credibility. 3 stars
2/07/01 Obi Wan Very entertaining, especially Katie Holmes...kinda reminded me of Beneath w/Pfeiffer & Ford 4 stars
1/25/01 Randy Director Holmes gets naked. 5 stars
1/24/01 JB Great fucking suspense. Keanu Reeves does a GREATJOB!!!! No BS! 5 stars
1/24/01 grunter You know Greg Kinnear did it from the moment he's introduced on screen 2 stars
1/22/01 Jupiter I'd go see any movie with Keanu Reeves in it. I wish he had been it this one more. 4 stars
1/21/01 earl duron well acted,effectively chilling yarn 4 stars
1/20/01 Buddy Acting is the best part. The ghost ending may suck, but Giovanni & Katie & Greg are cool 5 stars
1/09/01 Keanuette A very creepy supernatural thriller with good all round performances. KEANU is very good! 5 stars
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  19-Jan-2001 (R)


  12-Apr-2001 (M)

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