After seeing the The Gift’s cast list, one would expect this film to be great. It’s not. It’s superb — nay, exquisite. The Gift captures the independent film spirit perfectly, from the cinematography to the musical score to the acting, all while maintaining true thriller traits.

When the movie opens, we meet Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett). She is a widow, mother of three, and psychic reader in the small town of Brixton, Georgia. Annie’s clients range between distant travelers who believe in her gift to local townspeople, including Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank). Valerie continually seeks Annie out despite the warnings (and the bruises on her body) from her husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves). Donnie acts out against his wife, then begins harassing Annie at every moment he can.

Annie has such a friendly demeanor that she even talks to the town crazy, Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi). Their relationship throughout the film continually changes, from maternal, to sisterly, to creepy, to friendship. Ribisi’s acting is a wonder to watch, and he and Blanchett share a unique chemistry.

The film gains momentum when Wayne Collins’s (Greg Kinnear) fiancée, Jessica King (Katie Holmes), goes missing. Annie had a vision when she first met King. After these visions begin to haunt Annie (and the viewer), she informs the police of what she sees. She describes the crime scene and the way King’s body will be found. Turns out, her description matches the exact plot of land belonging to one Donnie Barksdale.

King’s body is recovered in Donnie’s pond, and the trial begins immediately. Throughout the trial, the viewer will find themselves wondering if Donnie really committed the crimes. Multiple suspicious characters pass through the story, making Annie question, as well.

Even with 20 minutes of the film left, the question remains unanswered: who murdered Jessica King? But don’t worry, this isn’t one of those films that just ends without the bow — hang in there, you’ll get it. Once the true murderer has been identified, viewers get yet another curve from this thriller. The Gift will keep you engaged from start to finish, even if you’re not a thriller fan.

Every actor makes his or her role pivotal, one of my favorite traits of independent films. While I’m not a huge fan of thrillers, I found myself entranced byThe Gift, once the story really got moving. Please be advised, some scenes are hard to watch, with Donnie Barksdale’s domestic abuse and the quick shots of Jessica King’s murdered body. Even though these scenes are hard to stomach, they pull one into the film even further. The music that accompanies these disturbing scenes is spot-on, as well. You will feel as if you’re tiptoeing around Annie Wilson’s house with her, just peering over her shoulder.

Only few times a year does a film come along that combines a fantastic cast and script in a genre that, at times, can be a bit cumbersome. The Gift delivers and should be seen by anyone who enjoys thrillers, independent films, or great cinematography.

Hanna Soltys is a green tea drinker and film critic living in Chicago.

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