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Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Sam Raimi
Written by: Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson
Producers: James Jacks, Tom Rosenberg, Robert G. Tapert
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Katie Holmes, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, Gary Cole

Rating: out of 5

As Annie Wilson, recently widowed mother of three boys, Cate Blanchett once again proves that all the fuss made over her a few years ago was not just hype. Her expressions convey the loss, sorrow, doubt, and fear that Annie perpetually deals with, not only from the loss of her husband but from the "gift" that she uses to put food on the table for her boys. Annie is capable of seeing things from other people's lives that maybe they aren't able to see themselves their innermost secrets, repressed fears, and even their futures. She not only sees these things but empathizes with these people and their fates and fortunes, all of which takes a toll on her physical and mental wellbeing. Blanchett has her own gift for making the audience share Annie's fears.

Unfortunately, the fate of this Southern Gothic ghost story doesn't rest solely on a very capable lead actor. It's a bit of an ensemble piece, undermined by some egregious miscasting and a script that seems like it was settled on after the first draft.

The story, set in a small Georgia town, focuses on the aforementioned Annie, whose husband was recently killed in an industrial accident despite her gift for intuiting the future. (She's not allowed to use her gift for personal gain.) Annie gains equal praise and opprobrium for plying her trade of reading cards to the locals and counseling them on the past, present, and future. She's a lot like any other counselor, with the same sort of limitations. It may be easier for her to divine why her patients are the way they are, but she can only give them advice on how to change and hope they take it.

Things get a bit worse when Donnie Barksdale a menacing and effective (no, I'm not kidding) Reeves”the abusive husband of a client (Swank) threatens Annie's life if she doesn't stop giving advice to his wife. Concurrently, Annie becomes acquainted with a small town princess (Holmes, in over her head) and her fiance (Kinnear, sporting a Southern version of Costner's on-again, off-again "Robin Hood" accent) almost right before the princess winds up missing.

Mostly, the film focuses on Holmes' murder and the trial that follows (Why does every modern Southern movie take place mostly in a courtroom or a kitchen?), but the best moments are spent with Annie trying to talk sense to her patients, who all seem to do the opposite of what she suggests. Giovanni Ribisi does his best in a subplot that seems to go nowhere as an especially confused and disturbed patient who may or may not be dangerous to Annie. The movie meanders around, taking in the swamps, bogs, and weeping willows, and piling on character after character, only to abandon them without much in the way of an explanation.

Raimi served up a much creepier movie in A SIMPLE PLAN, by merely using the cold, suffocating landscape to enclose the characters and help dictate their actions. Instead of using those swamps and bogs to his advantage, as John Boorman did in DELIVERANCE, Raimi plies his signature camera tricks to up the boo factor of the ghosts Annie sees; it doesn't work as well here. Nor are the courtroom scenes riveting. There isn't a lot here that people haven't seen before. It's a predictable a movie. It almost feels like everyone involved, except the actors, gave up. One thing's for sure, Cate Blanchett, in another solid performance, owns this movie. And, as far as I'm concerned, she can have it.

—Jonpaul Guinn

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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