red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

The Ultimate Gift

Cast: Drew Fuller, Bill Cobbs, Abigail Breslin, Ali Hillis, James Garner,
         Brian Dennehy, Lee Meriwether
Director: Michael O. Sajbel
Theatrical release: 2007; available on DVD


Put the dynamite young actor Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) in just about any film and you'll likely have a winner. But The Ultimate Gift also brims with a wealth of additional talent both in front and behind the camera. Then, too, there's a pretty good story to work with — from Jim Stovall's best-selling novel of the same name.

The opening titles flash-forward and -back to reveal information that's crucial to the narrative, alerting us to pay attention early and throughout. Soon, we encounter Jason, a spoiled trust-fund twenty-something, who's intent on disrupting whatever's going on — or sullenly refusing to participate. When his grandfather dies and the entire family is called together for the reading of the will, the truth about this seemingly privileged life becomes painfully clear.

Watching this family self-destruct over the dividing of material wealth calls into question whether any of them can be redeemed. Grandpa 'Red' seems to think Jason can — and has left a unique message for him. But Jason's inheritance depends on his ability to complete twelve challenges and receive twelve gifts. While what Red has in mind might not seem like gifts to someone from Jason's background, eventually, Jason realizes their value. And the end titles do a nice job of enumerating the list.

At a time when many films are filled with horror, destruction, abuse, and harsh language, a film like The Ultimate Gift could seem like a Pollyanna. But it's not syrupy at all. Yes, it has a 'message,' and, yes, some of the circumstances conveniently work out for the benefit of the story line. But tell me about a film that doesn't rely on such technique.

The Ultimate Gift is not heavy-handed in style or tone, and it's a real treat to see so many fine actors truly enjoying their work together. The DVD offers several short additions to the film, including a behind-the-scenes look at the "Making of..." the film and the interactions of cast and crew.

As Red says, "I lost everything three or four times. It's the perfect place to start" searching for the ultimate gift. So what's your dream?

 

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