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Movie Recommendations

Spotlight on: Sam Raimi's The Gift
Alternate: Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets

The Gift
Buy this DVD! [US] [UK] [CN]
The Gift

Occasionally in Hollywood, a really good movie is made, but because it is so small it comes in under the radar of the mainstream public. The Gift is such a film.

Directed by Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan, Spider-Man, Evil Dead) from a script by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson (One False Move, another terrific film), it stars Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) as Annie, a psychic living in a small Southern town. There is a murder in town, and only Annie, using her abilities, can solve it.

Now, this could have easily been overdone and gone very quickly into cheesy melodrama. But Raimi and the actors lend every moment the believability needed for the film to work. Blanchett particularly deserves credit for not making Annie a pastiche of the typical crazy psychic. Her eyes show us everything that Annie feels, and she doesn't particularly like what is going on. It, of course, doesn't help that the residents of the town feel that if she knows what happened then she must have been involved.

The other actors are equally good. The standout performance comes from Giovanni Ribisi, playing Buddy, a man with serious issues. All of his scenes are intense and a lesser actor could have easily gone over the top. It is a difficult job Ribisi has here--to play a man who is literally freaked out by something but doesn't know what it is--and he plays it wonderfully; we truly feel the pain of this man.

The surprise here is Keanu Reeves. It is easy to make fun of his previously bad choices, but I believe that, in the right role, he can do quite well. He is wonderful as Donnie Barksdale. He inhabits this evil man fully. I was enthralled by him on the screen.

Also in this stellar cast are Hillary Swank, Gary Cole, Michael Jeter, Rosemary Harris, and J.K. Simmons.

The tension is palpable throughout and never lets up. Director Raimi sets the mood and the sets are perfect, especially Annie's home. The script never parodies itself and the characters are drawn fully (except perhaps for Swank's thankless role). This is the perfect Southern thriller and should at least be watched for the high-grade performances and practically unnoticeable direction.

Note on the DVD: Not a whole lot in the way of extras. No commentary, a few interviews, and one standout: the music video of "Furnace Room Lullaby" (from the album of the same name) by Neko Case and Her Boyfriends.

Kind Hearts and Coronets Alternate Recommendation: Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets

Most people, if they know it at all, know Kind Hearts and Coronets as the picture where Alec Guinness plays eight different roles. What they neglect is Dennis Price's wonderfully subdued performance in the lead role of Louis. It also includes Joan Greenwood (The Importance of Being Earnest)--oh, that voice!--in one of her best roles.

This is my favorite of the Ealing series of comedies. It has the darkest and most subtle humor and each of Guinness's characters is an individual. The scene with them all in a room together has to be seen to be believed--remember this was 1949!

Maybe I'm too easily impressed, but that scene always amazes me.

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