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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 77.26)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Russian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English, Russian, Arabic, Hindi
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette - A Look Inside
  • Animated menus
  • Music video - Furnace Room Lullaby - Neko Case

The Gift

Lakeshore Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 107 mins . MA15+ . PAL


There’s almost an unwritten rule in Hollywood when it comes to the ever-popular mini-genre of the small-town potboiler drama – namely, if you want to put together a bunch of characters whose lives intertwine in dark and mysterious ways as they try in vain to keep their carefully-hidden secrets and lies under wraps, you’d better set it in the American South. If there’s particular reason for that, it’s not immediately apparent – indeed, David Lynch and Mark Frost happily got away with all of the above with barely a Southern accent in sight with their legendary TV series Twin Peaks. But put your characters in The South and suddenly you have access to a pair of potential plot devices that do wonders in the creep-out-an-audience department – namely, the wife-beating redneck and the dank, mysterious swamplands.

The Gift was co-written by actor Billy Bob Thornton – himself no stranger to The South – after he had worked with director Sam Raimi on his magnificent filming of Scott Smith’s book A Simple Plan, and it is not at all surprising to find Raimi in the director’s chair for this project. While he made his name with the Evil Dead series of increasingly amusing and over-the-top horror flicks, Raimi has in recent years turned his attention to more serious drama, albeit with dark undercurrents making up a crucial part of the story. Largely independently financed (and released in the US by Paramount’s confidently-named “Classics” division), The Gift is one of those increasingly common products of US cinema – a quirky, character-driven story played by a big-name cast and directed with flair by someone who relishes the change of pace as much as the actors do.

As the story opens, we meet Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett), a widowed single mother who supports her family by doing psychic “readings” to those in town that request them, using her gift to offer some insight or prophecy – though she can’t necessarily control what she sees. When the somewhat feisty Jessica King disappears, though, Annie is called upon for help in finding out what happened to her – with little success. Soon, though, Annie has unbidden visions of Jessica that may indicate her fate; but as it turns out, her revelations only complicate matters as suspicion and blame escalate.

Make no mistake – while this one’s billed on the cover as a “supernatural thriller”, the supernatural aspect of the story here is not the main thrust of the film. Annie’s “gift” may provide the film’s title and its mechanism for propelling the story, but it is presented as a completely natural thing, the out-there content never really dominating the story. Instead, this is much more a cleverly-written mystery/crime thriller, handled with an almost Hitchcockian flair and a nod to film noir by Raimi, who puts his story together with the use of many ‘60s-style cinematic devices (including frequent dissolves and unconventional camera angles) and has his actors play the drama to the hilt.

As an acting showcase, The Gift is really something – there’s an astonishing line-up of name actors here, with the likes of Hilary Swank, Keanu Reeves (playing very much against type and succeeding admirably), Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Gary Cole and the wonderful Michael Jeter surrounding Blanchett in this fictional Southern town. Blanchett herself is excellent as Annie, and both her performance and her Southern accent are nothing less than completely convincing. Special mention must be made of the performances by Reeves (whose fans will be more than a little disturbed to see as a venomous wife-beating thug) and Ribisi (who gets better with every film he appears in).

If there’s one criticism to be made about The Gift, it’s that it’s more than a little bit predictable, especially for those familiar with the genre; most savvy viewers will have the entire ending pegged accurately long before it unfolds on screen. But while Thornton’s script rarely treads new ground, it is loaded with emotional moments that allow the actors to throw caution to the wind and deliver a full-scale performance, and that - along with Raimi’s stylish direction, Christopher Young’s appropriately moody music score and some terrifically evocative visuals from veteran matte artist Syd Dutton and his colleague Bill Taylor – makes The Gift well worth seeing.


There’s a real challenge facing the reviewer when writing about Columbia Tristar’s DVD titles, and that’s simply the task of finding new superlatives with which to describe the video transfer and authoring each time another disc crosses the desk. Even with movies such as this one, where the actual telecine transfer may well have been handled by a company other than Sony, the DVD Center team makes the search for MPEG encoding problems like the eternal search for a needle in a haystack.

Presented at 1.85:1 and of course 16:9 enhanced, the video transfer of The Gift on offer on this DVD is exceptionally good, with near-perfect rendering of the many dimly-lit scenes throughout and exquisite rendering of the vibrant colour used on occasion to illustrate the story. There is a fair amount of film grain visible in some scenes, though this appears to be a direct result of the film stock used rather than any inadequacy on the part of the telecine transfer itself; no edge enhancement problems are visible and words like “aliasing” simply aren’t in this disc’s vocabulary. Purists may be slightly bothered by a fairly noticeable black dot that appears for a good amount of time atop a long effects shot (and we do wonder why this wasn’t digitally corrected) but that’s about the only blemish you’ll be seeing throughout the film’s running time.

The back cover of the disc package claims this disc is a single-layered offering, but the review copy we received (which was a test disc glass-mastered by Sony DADC, very likely not the same glass master that will be released locally) was in fact dual-layered, with the layer change occurring at the 77.26 mark of the film (while noticeable, it’s fairly quick and well placed). Interestingly, though, there’s not much more than a single layer’s worth of data on the disc, and in fact the movie by itself would have comfortably fitted onto a single layered disc; this is an unusual mastering strategy for the Sony DVD Center, who usually take advantage of the extra space to increase the encoding bitrate (not, of course, that there are any complaints about their work here).


Surprisingly for a dialogue-centred film, the audio soundtrack is remarkably vibrant, and in many cases is used as a vital tool in conveying emotion, tension or unease as the story progresses.

The audio here is billed on the back cover of the disc as being a 2.0 Surround track, which would be utterly unacceptable for a film mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 – but fear not, for the actual disc does in fact contain the full 5.1 soundtrack.

Audio is crisp and clean throughout, with plenty of surround activity during the more lively sequences of the film; Christopher Young’s score is nicely rendered and perfectly suited to the subject matter. There’s a noticeable lack of tape hiss or other audio problems throughout.

As well as the English language default audio, a Russian track is provided for some inexplicable reason; this one’s actually worth having a quick listen to, if only for the way it’s done – quite literally, two Russian people in a room speaking translations of lines of dialog OVER the English soundtrack, with virtually no attempt made whatsoever to actually act! Particularly amusing is the opening title sequence, with the male Russian voice selectively announcing the opening credits and unsurprisingly delivering some unique pronunciations of the actors’ names.


Sadly, The Gift doesn’t come with much in the way of extra features; a Sam Raimi commentary would have been especially welcome. Still, what’s here appears to tally with the content of the US version of the disc.

This DVD features nicely animated menus with audio (menu which neglect to mention the movie’s title, though!) and the disc is encoded with DVD Text.

The Gift – A Look Inside: This making-of featurette, running just under 11 minutes, is not as bad as you might expect, though it’s still very much in the vein of those interminable “EPK-style” featurettes loathed by so many. What makes this one worth the effort is the inclusion of a reasonable amount of interview footage with the cast and Raimi himself, some of which is fascinating. There’s nothing on the actual making of the film, though, and the title this featurette is given in the disc’s menu (The Making Of The Gift) is slightly misleading. Quite obviously converted from an NTSC source (the “judder” on the film excepts included is the giveaway here) the 4:3 video quality is still very good.

Music Video – Furnace Room Lullaby by Neko Case: A music video for a song by US-born, Canada-based roots/country artist Neko Case from her 2000 album of the same name, this short and atmospheric ballad is terrific – and decidedly reminiscent of the kind of music David Lynch is fond of putting in his films. Strangely enough, though, this particular song appears to neither be used in The Gift nor mentioned in the end credits – even though this clip contains footage from the film!

Trailers: Three theatrical trailers, for The Gift itself (16:9, surround audio), Go (4:3, with 5.1 audio) and the ancient Cher movie Suspect (4:3, mono audio). While we can understand the inclusion of the Go trailer (after all, that film also has Katie Holmes in it) the inclusion of the Suspect trailer is puzzling (and the trailer itself is in dreadful shape); possibly it ties in with the murder-mystery-potboiler mood of The Gift!

Filmographies: “Selected” filmographies (why not the complete list?) for director Raimi as well as actors Blanchett, Reeves, Ribisi, Holmes and Swank (and is it just us, or does that sound like a great name for a legal firm?)

Dolby Digital City Trailer: Enough already, it hurts!


Superbly acted by a great ensemble cast and stylishly directed by the versatile Raimi, The Gift is an acting showcase that’s also a perfectly entertaining over-the-top drama with rare sensitivity and some positivity included to balance the occasional burst of grisly violence. While perhaps not as refined as it could have been script-wise, there’s enough talent and skill on display to keep viewers well entertained, and a rattlingly fun mystery story at hand to keep them guessing. Columbia Tristar’s DVD, while extras-deprived, is typically state-of-the-art in terms of video and audio quality.

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      And I quote...
    "Columbia Tristar’s DVD, while extras-deprived, is typically state-of-the-art in terms of video and audio quality. "
    - Anthony Horan
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          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
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          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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