Gift, The

2 bone dog

RATED: R

This psychic phenomena suspense yarn surrounding the murder of a young socialite works largely because of the superb performance by Cate Blanchett. Here she plays a widow with three young sons who supports herself, in part, by giving psychic readings to the motley townspeople in the small backwoods community of Brixton, Georgia. Otherwise, the characters that the filmmakers have described as “colorful”, are in fact, crazy and charicatured.

Among Annie’s clients are Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) an abused woman trying to cope with her husband Donnie’s (Keanu Reeves) viscious beatings and Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), a simple-minded auto mechanic who is tortured by memories of childhood abuse by his father. For them, Annie is their hope and salvation.

One day the town’s promiscuous socialite, Jessica King (Katie Holmes), disappears and reluctantly, the town’s sheriff, Jessica’s rich father and her financeé Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear) come calling at Annie’s looking for clues when they have zip. Annie’s talent leads them to discover the body and a suspect, but it’s just not that simple and Annie’s life and the lives of her three sons are threatned.

Written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, the story is a very effective spooker with a few less than sparkling moments: the inevitable gratuitous nudity of the socialite and then her corpse and an absolutely ludicrous courtroom scene that results in the suspect very quickly being thrown in the slammer.

Blanchett, as I said, is wonderful in portaying a woman burdened by her frightening visions. Everyone else from Swank, Reeves, Michael Jeter (as a defense attorney) and Gary Cole as the Prosecutor do fine jobs as well. But their characters are pretty black and white to begin with. Kinnear’s role as the school principal wracked by Jessica’s death offers more subtle shadings to add interest to the piece. It drags a bit midway when the candles blow out once too often and the watery corpse reminds you a little too much of the one in What Lies Beneath, but otherwise, the film is far better than most in this genre. Ribisi, too, does an exceptional job but someone once said that playing a nutcase is easy. Ribisi seems to be finding a niche playing simpletons.

Lotta says The Gift is suspenseful spookiness leanly cut by director by Sam Raimi.

Reviewed 12/22/00