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Gift, The (2000, Cate Blanchett, Greg Kinnear)

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In small town Georgia, widow Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) provides for her three children by giving psychic readings to her neighbours. Clients include mechanic Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi) and battered wife Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank), who is beginning to gain her independence from her adulterous, abusive husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves).

When his mistress Jessica (Katie Holmes) disappears, Annie assists the police inquiry and her ‘visions’ lead them to a lake on Donnie’s land, where Jessica’s body is discovered. Donnie is charged with the murder but soon after, Annie is plagued by visions proclaiming his innocence. She tries in vain to get District Attorney David Duncan (Gary Cole) to reopen the case as piece by piece the evidence comes together and the murderer’s real identity becomes clear…

This superior psychological thriller is a curious historical accident, cashing in on Reeves’ fame after The Matrix while predating Raimi’s mainstream steamroller, Spider-Man . The director’s touch for enlivening the quirky – as demonstrated in A Simple Plan – is deployed here to distract from some of the plot’s more absurd liberties, creating a palpably sinister atmosphere.

This is amplified by Blanchett’s performance, blending vulnerability and strength (and rumoured to be based on the psychic abilities of co-writer Billy Bob Thornton’s own mother). The actress – who replaced original choice Jodie Foster – visited five clairvoyants to research the role, and was told she should hire a bodyguard; Reeves visited one New York fortune-teller ‘who told me things about my family and things about my past that she couldn’t possibly know.’

One thing you don’t need is a crystal ball to divine is that attention would fall on Holmes’ first nude scene. Brief and relevant, it’s little more than a distraction in a well-crafted movie strong on cast, character and technical accomplishment.

production details
US | 111 minutes | 2000
Director: Sam Raimi
Script: Tom Epperson, Billy Bob Thornton,

cast
Greg Kinnear as Wayne Collins
J.K. Simmons as Sheriff Pearl Johnson
Hilary Swank as Valerie Barksdale
Katie Holmes as Jessica King
Chelcie Ross as Kenneth King
John Beasley as Albert Hawkins
Gary Cole as David Duncan
Giovanni Ribisi as Buddy Cole
Michael Jeter as Gerald Weems
Cate Blanchett as Annie Wilson
Keanu Reeves as Donnie Barksdale
Rosemary Harris as Annie’s Granny
David Brannen as Ben Wilson
Kim Dickens as Linda
Lynnsee Provence as Mike Wilson
Hunter McGilvray as Miller Wilson

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