Set in a small town near Savannah, the film explores the hatred directed at those who seem to have powers outside of the norm. Cate Blanchett plays Annabelle, a psychic who gives readings with her cards to make a living for her three boys, Her husband died in a freak accident she predicted but was helpless to stop, and now only the most faithful come to her for help. Otherwise, she's branded as either a fake or a witch. The disappearance of the beautiful Jessica King (Holmes) sparks a manhunt for her; she's rich, powerful, and nearly everyone in town has seen her in the nude. And when no leads come up, Annabelle is reluctantly called in to see whatever she can see.
Though directed by Sam Raimi, The Gift has very little to do with horror. Instead, Raimi infuses the story with themes of prejudice, small-town camaraderie, and the dangers of being different. Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson write a surprisingly competent script, though, with some excellent character situations and some heavy drama. The film is dripping with solemn atmosphere; the small town has a lot of problems, including a wife-beating husband (Reeves) who is buddies with some guys on the police force and a man who's so haunted by a past shadowed by his father's actions that he thinks the only way to get rid of the memories is to burn the man himself.
But The Gift is often sidetracked by all of these different events. There's an awesome tension between Annabelle and Reeves' character Donnie, and Reeves brings a disturbing quality to his character. The same is true of the relationship between Annabelle and Buddy, the eccentric and disturbed mechanic who comes to her for all of his problems. These moments are ruled by Cate Blanchett, who brings extreme likability to her performance, and for a viewer that's not really familiar with most of her work, I must say she's the most impressive part of this film.
With that said, she's working with a movie that's very inconsistent. Those dramatic and tense scenes that Raimi throws in are offset by strange shifts in tone. Sometimes The Gift is a suspense thriller; others, it's a court room drama. Granted, the film is pretty good at its multiple roles, but it also leaves itself little room for the initial conceit. The psychic abilities of Annabelle drop away after she eventually finds Jessica, and that's where viewers' attention will start to wane.
It doesn't help that the final push for a twist is pretty conventional. The Gift makes an obvious choice for its killer, something that's easy to foresee. That means that the slog through uneven terrain is not worth it once the final reveal comes around; that small inkling I had in my head that things weren't going to wrap around as surprisingly as the film wants us to think was in my head, and the final scene just cemented that.
The Gift has quite a lot going for it: some good actors, a well-written script, and a competent director. But the story itself isn't as gifted as the initial setup, which is unfortunate because the film could have done much more with its psychic theme than it really does. Besides that disappointment, its uneven tone doesn't carry the film forward satisfactorily - too often, it feels The Gift is looking towards the future instead of focusing on its present situations.
The Gift on Rotten Tomatoes
The Gift on Rotten Tomatoes