Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall & Joel Edgerton
As Blockbuster movie season reaches its crescendo, those seeking escapism from the loud barrage of CGI could do a lot worse than checking out The Gift, a creepy, airport paperback thriller of a movie that harks back to ’90s stalker thrillers like Single White Female, Unlawful Entry, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Pacific Heights.
Bateman and Hall star as Simon and Robyn, a newly married Yuppie couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with Simon’s old high school acquaintance, the awkward Gordo (Edgerton). Robyn feels sorry for the guy and the couple befriend him much to Simon’s annoyance. Gordo is kind of creepy and very clingy and soon things get uncomfortable as the obsessive Gordo starts presenting them with mysterious gifts that hint to a dark secret from Simon’s past. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon & Gordo, she is forced to confront just how well she knows the people around her, and are past bygones ever really bygones?
As clichéd as this premise is initially, it’s the trio of sturdy lead performances that lend dimension to characters that would have been very thin & tropey in lesser hands. Hall’s watchful intelligence and reserve make her an ideal moral compass & audience surrogate, and Bateman shifts seamlessly back & forth from sarcastic charmer and sinister snake whilst Edgerton exudes both menace and fragility, keeping us guessing as to whether Gordo is cracking up or in supreme control.
These considered, nuanced & layered performances are further heightened by Edgerton’s impressive script. From its trailer and opening scenes you’d be forgiven to think The Gift as well acted, pure pastiche, but then the film starts doing things a bit differently. What appears to be story in the tradition the urban male-dominated revenge thriller turns into the story of a woman coming to understand which flaws in her partner she’s willing to live with and which she’s not. The film pulls off some fantastic and skillful acrobatics, unlike lesser films it isn’t solely driven by compounding plot events, but really evolves through our ever-changing perceptions of who the lead characters in the story really are, with each new puzzle piece shaking up the game and keeping things unpredictable.
This film marks the directorial debut of Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay, and it’s definitely one of the best actor-to-director debut’s since Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone but Edgerton is no stranger to work behind the camera. Like Affleck, he has written and produced films (Felony and The Square, the latter was directed by his brother Nash with whom Joel has also collaborated on a number of great short films). Despite this it’s astonishing how deftly Edgerton works his omnipresent role as writer, producer, director and star, crafting something of both style and substance.
The Gift is by no means a perfect film. The dialogue is a bit corny and movie-ish (“There’s just something a bit off about him”) but not glaringly so, and its final twist is contrived (and quite distasteful) but overall it’s a smartly constructed, gripping thriller and something of an unexpected surprise