Over the past week I revisited Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, even started watching the TV series Ash vs The Evil Dead (2015-2018), but I wanted to watch one of his under the radar movies. The Gift from 2000 is set in Georgia and stars Cate Blanchett as Annie Wilson, a woman with ESP skills. Recently widowed, Annie is struggling to raise three young children while some residents of the town consider her a witch.
Written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, the script was inspired by Thornton's own childhood. Raimi gathered together a stellar cast including three Oscar winners - Cate Blanchett, Hilary Swank and J.K. Simmons. The Gift is a family drama/murder mystery with some supernatural elements. Blanchett's performance anchors the movie, a single mother struggling to get by while being marginalized by some, not unlike Christopher Walken's tragic character in The Dead Zone. Many want to use Annie's gift to their own advantage.
The plot centers around the murder of a local woman Jessica (Katie Holmes) engaged to the school principal Wayne (Greg Kinnear). The town suspects handyman Donnie (Keanu Reeves) a troublemaker with a history of domestic abuse towards his wife Valerie (Hilary Swank). Annie also witnessed some things on the night of the murder suggesting another suspect. Locals resent her being used as a consultant on the case by the police chief played by J.K. Simmons, who Raimi would later cast as J. Jonah Jameson in his Spiderman trilogy.
The Gift passes as an entertaining mystery with the expected twist ending. As a whole the film borders on underwhelming with its conventional pacing and some cliched caricatures, most notably Giovanni Ribisi chewing up scenery as a mechanic with an emotional attachment to Annie. Keanu is also over the top as the abusive husband. Blanchett is the most charismatic as a woman navigating different types of men trying to manipulate her to their own ends. Raimi's sure footed direction brought a versatility in one of the more character driven movies in his filmography.
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