The Gift – 2015
Written, Directed and Starring Joel Edgerton
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall
Joel Edgerton is one of the more talented actors I have seen in recent years. His work in Animal Kingdom, Warrior and more recently The Great Gatsby are a good start for the uninitiated. At first glance of the trailer, this movie seemed right out of the mold of the Single White Girl / Pacific Heights your neighbor is a creep variety. The last thing I need to spend my time on is another rote antagonism movie. And although Bateman is given a free pass by most, he’s about the level of Rebecca Hall for me. Not bad, but not a done deal. There are more than a few of each of their films I didn’t even bother reviewing.
Once I discovered that the entire crew of the Dan Le Batard Show enjoyed it, I decided to give it a shot. I was overjoyed to discover that not only was Edgerton in the film, he was writing and directing for the first time. This will be different, at least. So long as the producers don’t get in the way too much.
The story begins with Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) buying a house back in Southern California after a rough last couple of years in Chicago. Hints are given about the loss of a child in utero, as well as a dependency on pills. Things are moving forward for the couple though, slowly.
Things take a turn when, at a store near the new house, they come across Gordon (Edgerton). He is a former schoolmate of Simon from way back. At first glance, it appears as though Simon can’t recall. Soon, though, he is amazed to realize that Gordon does not seem anything like the “Weirdo” that Simon knew. Just the same, there is no intention on following up once Gordon gives Simon his number.
Not that it matters. The next day, Gordon appears at their new house while Simon is working. He is bearing gifts. Robyn is thankful for his thoughtfulness and somewhat impressed by his manners and calm demeanor. She pushes her husband into inviting him over for a thank you dinner. The budding friendship is anything but awkward. It is rather forced. The interplay between the three characters is enough to keep each step somewhat believable enough to call for a willing suspension of disbelief.
That there is more to Gordon is a given. It is quite obvious that he has an agenda. Where this movie wins, though, is in giving layers to the husband and wife. Nothing is as it seems, and good is a matter of degrees and appearances. The movie gives all the appearance of a by the numbers thriller as it slowly turns up the tension. There are odd, unexpounded moments, and it’s tough to tell what the state of mind of each character is in, as they are mostly in flux. Even if one can call some of the shots, they likely won’t get most.
Hall plays the pivotal role. Her vantage point is the crux for the viewer, as she is the closest thing to a constant. The way she views things has an effect on our perspective. Edgerton plays Gordon with a serene quality that swings between being potentially insane or completely rational. Bateman plays a familiar role almost like he was made for it. If I say anymore, I could ruin it.
The Gift is not a perfect film by any means. It has a generic sheen over everything and there are a few times where people outside of the situation say things that are only meant to further the plot. This can be forgiven, however, for the cleverness of the twists and the acting. As for Edgerton, it’s a great start in the deepening exposure to a very interesting talent.
(**** out of *****)