It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Psychics and hairdressers have three things in common. They can appoint themselves, they can work out of their homes and they don't have a lot of overhead: a Tarot deck, shampoo, candles, scissors, incense, mousse. It helps if they have a reassuring manner, because many of their clients want to tell their troubles and receive advice. Poor neighborhoods have a lot of women working as beauticians or soothsayers. If you're a woman with few options, no husband and a bunch of kids, you can hang out the shingle and support yourself. The advice dispensed by these professionals is often as good or better as the kind that costs $200 an hour, because it comes from people who spent their formative years living and learning. The problems of their clients are not theoretical to them.
Consider Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett), the heroine of "The Gift." Her husband was killed in an accident a year ago. She has three kids. She gets a government check, which she supplements by reading cards and advising clients. She doesn't go in for mumbo-jumbo. She takes her gift as a fact of life; her grandmother had it and so does she. She looks at the cards, she listens to her clients, she feels their pain, she tries to dispense common sense. She is sensible, courageous and good.
She lives in a swamp of melodrama; that's really the only way to describe her hometown of Brixton, Ga., which has been issued with one example of every standard Southern gothic type. There's the battered wife and her redneck husband; the country club sexpot; the handsome school principal; the weepy mama's boy who is afeared he might do something real bad; the cheatin' attorney; the salt-of-the-earth sheriff, and various weeping willows, pickup trucks, rail fences, country clubs, shotguns, voodoo dolls, courtrooms, etc. When you see a pond in a movie like this, you know that sooner or later, it is going to be dredged.
With all of these elements, "The Gift" could have been a bad movie, and yet it is a good one because it redeems the genre with the characters. Blanchett's sanity and balance as Annie Wilson provide a strong center, and the other actors in a first-rate cast go for the realism in their characters instead of being tempted by the absurd. The movie was directed by Sam Raimi and written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson. They know the territory. Raimi directed Thornton in "A Simple Plan" (1998), that great movie about three buddies who find a fortune and try to hide it; Thornton and Epperson wrote "One False Move" (1992), about criminals on the run and old secrets of love.