In “The Gift,” director Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead,” “Dark Man”) works once again from a script by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson once again to tell an unsettling story of human redemption featuring characters who are touched by the supernatural. But like his last film, “A Simple Plan,” this story is more grounded in reality, with characters who exhibit dimensions that slowly evolve during the course of the film.
Like David Cronenberg, Raimi is becoming known less for his thrillers and more for maturely crafted dramas with an unsettling edge. While “Gift” features elements of a suspense thriller, its cast touts a pedigree that gives it a more serious patina.
Cate Blanchett, Oscar-nominated for her title role in 1998’s “Elizabeth,” plays Annie Wilson, a widowed mother who experiences psychic visions, and supports her three sons by giving readings. 1999’s best actress, Hilary Swank, plays a relatively minor role as a young battered wife. Greg Kinnear — nominated for his supporting turn in 1997’s “As Good as It Gets” — plays the local school principal. In addition, Keanu Reeves plays against type as Swank’s abusive husband and Giovanni Ribisi employs his trademark neo-Method as a disturbed mechanic.
But it’s Blanchett, with a Southern accent, who is given the opportunity virtually to carry an entire film, a feat she pulled off with “Elizabeth,” so there’s little reason to doubt her abilities here. The Aussie thesp has proved adept at disappearing into American roles; witness her characters in “Pushing Tin” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
Production designer Neil Spisak and cinematographer Jamie Anderson take pains to emphasize the heavy atmospheric detail of the film’s Savannah, Ga., setting.
Thornton, who won an Oscar for his “Sling Blade” script, reteams with Epperson, with whom he penned “One False Move.”