Episode 4 – The Gift

This week we discuss Cate Blanchett’s post-Elizabeth (1998) career and in particular The Gift (2000) directed by Sam Raimi.

HostMurtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Kieran Scarlett, some of Kieran’s writing can be found here. Listen to his podcast, You Started It!

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: A woman with extrasensory perception is asked to help find a young woman who has disappeared. The big supporting cast includes Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, Greg Kinnear, Giovanni Ribisi and Katie Holmes. 

  • What year did it come out?

 Limited release late December 2000, then opening early 2001.

  • Who does Cate play?

 Annie Wilson, the woman with the gift.

  • How is Cate introduced?

Her hands as she put down cards over the credits before her face is shown.

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Topics discussed:

  • Most reviews mentioned that this role seems miles away from her Oscar-nominated Elizabeth (1998) – did Cate mange to subvert expectations and show her range by choosing this film as her leading role follow-up? She also diversified by taking supporting parts in The Talented Mr Ripley, Pushing Tin released in 1999 and The Man Who Cried released in 2001. Also turned down Hannibal around this time.
  • On the flip side this film didn’t work leading to the start of Cate’s lost years between Elizabeth her breakout and The Aviator when something finally jelled. However she made many movies in differnt genres and learned how to be in front of the camera.
  • Cate subverts the trope of the scream queen by underplaying it subtle and all in the eyes and the tremble of the body. Does it work or did we need more drama and hysterics?
  • This was based on Billy Bob Thornton’s mother’s life???
  • Sam Raimi’s strange career – made this after A Simple Plan and For the Love of the Game and right before spending almost a decade making 3 Spider Man movies.
  • Starts with thunder and fog then proceeds to “gift” us with the entrapments – visual and sonic – of gothic mysteries. The bait and switch cliche of presenting the culprit as the sensitive guy who most understands our heroine.
  • Does the film have any cultural capital today beyond being in its cast’s filmography?
  • Domestic violence and child sexual abuse are introduced as plot points – are they handled with sensitivity and nuance or just paid lip service to?
  • Apparently many of the actors signed on for scale because they wanted to work with Cate.

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Famous quotes by the character:

  • “You see something bad?” is THE quote from the movie, delivered by Katie Holmes
  • “What does fuck mean? It’s a bad word for something nice.” Sounds like a Bill Bob quote.

Costumes we loved:

None really though all were appropriate. Annie is costumed very modestly in contract to Jessica (Holmes) and her friend played by Kim Dickens.

What seemed off :

  • Keanu is not good, Kinnear telegraphs a lot. Ribsi twitches.. Are they in the same movie as sublime Cate? 
  • The sript is overwrought but the direction makes it play.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • Doesn’t register now.
  • See above about her post Elizabeth work.
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The cast at the film’s LA premiere in December, 2000.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

A O Scott’s review starts with a graf about Cate but it’s mostly about the “but” it contains

“In the last few years, Cate Blanchett has shown a range few screen actresses of her generation can match, playing, among other roles, Elizabeth I, a Long Island housewife in ”Pushing Tin” and a lovelorn preppy in ”The Talented Mister Ripley.” Even when the movies themselves have been lackluster, Ms. Blanchett’s performances have been vivid with submerged feeling. She doesn’t so much embody her characters as haunt them, registering unspoken and unconscious hurt in the hollows of her face and her watchful blue eyes.”

“Even if you’ve figured out where The Gift is headed, the actors keep you watching closely.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.

“The movie is ingenious in its plotting, colorful in its characters, taut in its direction and fortunate in possessing Cate Blanchett. If this were not a crime picture (if it were sopped in social uplift instead of thrills), it would be easier to see the quality of her work. By the end, as all hell is breaking loose, it’s easy to forget how much everything depended on the sympathy and gravity she provided in the first two acts.” Roger Ebert.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Sam Raimi teased Cate about most of her films – including this one – being flops in a tribute video when honoring her with a career award at the Australian Oscars in 2016.
  • In 2 years she’ll work with Ribisi again in Heaven, one of her most unheralded but great performances.
  • Cate and Hillary Swank would win Oscars 4 years later on the same night for The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby respectively.

SF Chronicle interview with Cate:

“There were plenty of offers to drive a film after ‘Elizabeth.’ But there is no point in driving a film if you don’t have a story to tell,” 

Raimi to Newsweek:

Raimi was working with a budget reportedly under $10 million. But he had no trouble getting people like Keanu Reeves to work cheap when they’d read the rich, layered script–and heard who’d be telling their fortunes. “Once they knew Cate Blanchett was starring in the piece,” he says, “they knew they were going to be across from one of the best, if not the best, leading ladies in the world.” 

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