The Gift best left unopened

There are certain phrases a movie reviewer simply never expects to write. "A fine performance by Keanu Reeves" is a prime example of one such phrase. However, such a phrase must be employed to describe Reeve’s performance in The Gift.

For the first time in his career, Reeves succeeds in making the audience forget they are watching a movie-star play pretend–and he never says "whoa," even once. Cate Blanchett’s central performance is far better, of course, than that of Reeves. Good enough, in fact, that it very nearly trancends the hokum in which the film is steeped. Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank and Giovanni Ribisi round out a fine cast in a film written by Billy Bob Thornton. These actors exist in the film to either be murdered or to be suspected of committing murder. Fans of red herrings will rejoice at The Gift. So, unfortunately, will fans of The Outer Limits.

Cate Blanchett is a widow with three little boys and psychic powers. Telling fortunes for money is against the law in her county, but she neatly side-steps this law by merely "accepting donations." However, Blanchett’s telepathic abilities give her frightening premonitions. At one point early in the film, the spirit of Blanchett’s grandmother warns her that "a storm is coming." Indeed a storm does come, via mysterious disappearance. Katie Holmes is betrothed to Greg Kinnear, but dutifully continues her role as town slut in spite of her impending marriage. When she disappears, a desperate police force approaches Blanchett as a last resort. Meanwhile, Blanchett is threatened by the abusive husband of one of her clients (Reeves, in menacing fashion).

The film is directed by Sam Raimi, who has only recently graduated from the school of silly directing into some place more professional. With the Evil Dead trilogy and Darkman behind him, Raimi has begun to do mainstream movies, like For the Love of the Game and A Simple Plan. The Gift is another step in his quest toward legitimacy. The film masterfully creates an atmosphere of dread. The sense of foreboding doom is keenly felt, and accented through the vulnerability of Blanchett’s widow. There are many tense moments that, although far less frequent, are similar to the thrills in last summer’s What Lies Beneath.

Blanchett’s premonitions often involve her seeing dead people in frightening ways for her and the audience. The ending of the film is unsatisfactory, and seems like a cheat. Contrivance has long been a Hollywood staple, but there’s only so far one can suspend disbelief in a film about psychic phenomena. The ending, truly akin to an episode of The Outer Limits, also serves to take away from the superb tale which precedes it. The first acts of the film are so good in fact they compensate for the ending. Fans of The Twilight Zone need not worry, however. They should love this film.

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