The Gift – Review
Melbourne Australian born actor Joel Edgerton is building up a resume of very solid work that in my estimation will garner him an Oscar nomination in the not too distant future. His previous works include the wider audience type fares of “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Great Gatsby”, as well as two films soon to be released in 2015 with the first titled “Black Mass” that tells the true story of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and the second film in the Western genre starring Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor and Bradley Cooper in “Jane Got a Gun”. If you want to see him in something out of the norm that is both suspenseful and riveting I highly recommend you rent Edgerton’s acting and writing work in the independent films “Animal Kingdom” and the “The Square”. And it’s with this eclectic resume we see his latest effort, as well as Edgerton’s full range of stage craft skills as the star, director, producer and writer of the screenplay in the genuinely effective psychological thriller “The Gift”, starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall.
Early on in “The Gift” we see a young married couple named Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) whose life is going just as planned as Simon has taken a new job in sunny California. In very short order they have a totally chance encounter with an acquaintance of Simon's from high school and as to be expected with people’s appearances changing from the way you last remember them Simon doesn't initially recognize his former class mate named Gordo. But it’s after their meeting in the mall that Gordo, under the guise of being friendly and neighborly, finds out where the couple’s new home is and begins to show up uninvited to their door. When neither of them are there Gordo leaves a series of mysterious gifts for them to find that over time begins to feel and prove to be very troubling.
After something really strange happens one evening, Simon approaches Gordo to directly demand he stop coming by their home. But it’s from this confrontation we soon discover that both Simon and Gordo share much more in their past than being classmates 20 years ago with Robyn becoming increasingly suspicious of what exactly happen in their past between her loving husband and this stranger that Simon refers to from his high school nickname as “Gordo the Wierdo”.
PROS: The first hour is simply brilliant as we see an Alfred Hitchcock-ian type execution of a story delivered in very subtle layers filled with titillating drama and unnerving anticipation from scene to the very next. In fact there were two specific instances in “The Gift” where large sections of the viewing audiences in the theater let out very loud screams in the anticipation of something bad was about to happen. Not for me of course as I know when I being set up for something like that.
Also, the first hour does a good job in not revealing its key plot point until much later and therefore I was constantly guessing as to what subtle clues to that plot was I being given in either some seemingly benign throw away conversations and or some hidden symbolisms that could help me along as to why Gordo was intent on entering Simon and Robyn lives. I got nothing and that was a good thing.
CONS: The second hour flattens out just a tad from its previous effective climb. My guess the transition in the writing got stretch a little thin mostly by the sudden change in some of the characters initially straight forward personalities. But it is probably more of my own hang ups about the story earlier effectiveness and in the end not a real criticism of the overall story telling of human intrigue. And while this change never hurts the films approach to some hidden “secrets” which are at the core to the films story, it just seemed for me the transition could have been done just a little smoother.
CONCLUSION: “The Gift” is about trust. Who do you trust, what do you trust and how do you go about trusting. And when you mix a secret with the lies to cover it up, you end up with a story and a film with real human life and death like tension when people betray that trust.
“The Gift “is dark, at times very creepy, chilling, and direct and a very much focused film. Overall nothing in this movie is a cheap salacious effort to entertain you as you feel the circumstance that have drawn these people together are real and contemporarily meaningful. Director Edgerton makes really good use of camera angles, night time darkness, shadowy movement, faded images, bumps in the wall and moments of prolong silence as effective moments of real fear as I have seen in a film in some time. And while you are watching this you know you are being totally manipulated each step of the way and yet you can neither figure out how nor do you care as to why, as it felt every 15 minutes of this 1:45 minute film we are dealt a new surprise after another to its very smart and unanticipated conclusion.
Joel Edgerton has a gift for patience which I like in a good Director as well as his appreciation for taking old time drama stories and placing them in contemporary packaging. He understand the range of human emotions and uses them as a landscape to telling a good story without any gimmicks, car chases, explosions or cheap sex scenes.
Some have referred to “The Gift” as this generation’s modern take on the game changing film “Fatal Attraction” only this time for men, well it’s not that at all. But what it is, is a film that will make you think about life overall and especially about the past. It will scare you a bit as you unwillingly but consciously contemplate something you may have consequentially done in your past that may come back to rear its ugly head 20 years later. But above all “The Gift’ dives head on into that emotionally unpredictable door of what torment is like when it is in the form of a lifelong journey of betrayal, which in the end irreparably damages the most important of human qualities we should value above all the rest; “Trust”.
3 – 3/4 Stars