film & game reviews, the retro way.
Billy Bob Thornton
Before tackling the Spider-Man franchise, director Sam Raimi was taking something of a break from big genre movies, opting for smaller-scale thriller/dramas instead. One of those projects was The Gift, a supernatural thriller about a fortuneteller who reluctantly gets involved in a murder case.
The film was co-written by Billy Bob Thornton, who had worked with Raimi on A Simple Plan a couple of years prior, and it starred Cate Blanchett as Annie, a small town fortuneteller, with a possibly genuine "gift". Annie is repeatedly threatened by Donnie (Keanu Reeves), a wife-beating husband, until a dead woman's body is found on his property thanks to one of Annie's visions and he is soon tried for murder. What follows is an Agatha Christie-esque whodunit with a purposely dodgy cast of characters and a Hitchcockian feel.
The Evil Dead director is a lot more restrained than you'd expect here as the supernatural elements in the film are kept ambiguous enough until the last minute and there are only a couple of minor jump scares to be found. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the vulnerable, good hearted widow whose gift is both a blessing and a curse. Between the troubled and/or twisted locals she has to deal with on a daily basis, the three kids she's having to raise on her own and the murder mystery that ends up consuming her life, Annie feels like she's never far from a breakdown but she powers through, helping the people around her, standing up for what's right and this makes her endearing.
The strong supporting cast provides the perfect contrast to the level-headed Annie, with Keanu Reeves taking on a much meaner role than usual and Giovanni Ribisi turning his nervous schtick all the way to 11. The film is appropriately moody and suspenseful, never going too over-the-top yet providing enough visual flair and shocks to prove effective. Where The Gift sadly stumbles is in its third act where the killer is finally revealed and it's all much too predictable. Raimi tries to present a final, arguably bigger twist after that but the whodunit is too much of a disappointment to save the ending, though even that can't ruin what is otherwise a very well made film.
Despite its lack of a rewarding ending, The Gift remains a thriller worth seeing if only for the solid performances and Sam Raimi's sharp yet softer approach. I suggest you don't focus too heavily on who actually did the murder and, instead, sit back and enjoy the overall experience because this is an under-appreciated little movie that gets most things right and deserves some attention.
Give it a go.