The Gift. 2015. Directed & Written by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, & Susan May Pratt. STX Entertainment/Huayi Brothers Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.
Joel Edgerton is a triple threat – he can act, write, and direct. The first thing I’d seen him do as a writer was the exciting film The Square. That same year, he put in a stellar acting performance as Ian Wright in the underrated dark thriller Acolytes. Next, he was spot on Barry ‘Baz’ Brown in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and another solid screenplay in 2014 for director Michôd’s The Rover. So to see him in The Gift with all three barrels blasting, starring on top of directing and writing together, it is truly phenomenal.
While this movie wasn’t exactly as great as the hype suggests, Edgerton does craft a very deep, at times highly disturbing thriller with lots of human drama and intrigue, weaving the story of two men together in adulthood concerning a terrible secret from when they were children. Most of all, Edgerton explores how we never really know people. Not fully, not all of them. Some hide things, unnerving and even awful things. And this is a story about when those secrets in the past crawl their way into the lives of people in the present. Often with horrific consequences.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) are a well put together married couple. They eventually want to have children, but other than that everything is wonderful. Until along comes Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton), an old high school acquaintance of Simon. He starts showing up unexpected at their home, usually bearing a gift. Except this continues and continues to an odd length. Soon, Simon feels he has to tell Gordo to back off.
However, the past is tricky. Not everyone, even those married and close to one another, knows the people around them completely. Everybody has a secret. It just so happens some are worse than others. And the secret Simon’s been hiding is certainly worse. As the presence of Gordo in their lives starts to threaten their plain, enjoyable existence, Simon and Robyn are confronted with how the past can taint the present forever.
Aside from Edgerton, whom I dig, Jason Bateman is part of why I immediately found myself drawn to The Gift. He’s someone how has impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so to see him in something darkly serious is interesting. He does a good job with the character of Simon. What’s fun is that the character begins at one end of the spectrum, commanding our empathy for the situation in which he finds himself, as well as the fact his wife is inadvertently drawn into his past. Then by the end of the movie we’re questioning exactly where the loyalties lie as viewers. He is no longer worthy of our empathy, but at the same time we’re left to question how much punishment he actually deserves. One thing’s for sure, the true colours show and we finally see who Simon was all those years ago.
There’s also Rebecca Hall, she is a treat as usual. Here she gets a better role than most of the other films I’ve seen her in, as the character of Robyn is complex, endearing, and of course once the movie has run its course there is so much more involved. She plays the role well and she definitely has chemistry with Bateman, even Edgerton, too.
And Edgerton, he does a fine bit of work. Gordo is a nerve wracking character who’ll make you nervous almost every last second his face is onscreen. Whereas Edgerton often has a fairly built physique, or a manly build, whatever you want to call it, Gordo is more sheepish. He isn’t lost of confidence, not at all. But physically he isn’t imposing, he is sort of odd, awkward, and that makes him even more menacing in a way.
The sad and smiley faces are something that warn you right away. Gordo’s stuck as a young boy, one used to writing notes across the class with pretty girls, smiley faces and all. This is an immediate clue, even from the first smiley, that something is amiss. Of course he’s a bit creepy all the time. There’s something about the notes, the smiley and later sad faces drawn on, which bring your attention to something traumatic. People who go through various kinds of trauma at a young age can often find themselves stuck in that age, often times for the rest of their lives. So later, once things are uncovered more and more, we’re clued into the fact that these little droplets of character actually mean something. It’s weird from the start, but gains further eerie significance after more story details fall into our laps. That’s part of why Edgerton’s script is really enjoyable. Despite being a fairly slow burn for most of its run there are so many moments to hook you in, keep you glued to what’s happening.
Spoiler Alert: if you’ve not seen the film, do not go on. I’m about to discuss & spoil the ending.
Personally, I don’t think Gordo raped Robyn. To me he doesn’t seem like that type, no matter if he’s a creep. And above all, because he didn’t need to do that. All he required was the seed of doubt. Plant that in Simon’s head once and it’ll never go away. Simon would spend the rest of his life wondering, likely afraid to say anything about but all the while allowing it to consume him. That’s the greater revenge, in my opinion. Now there are some people I saw complaining about the rape angle being used here as a plot device, and I identify as a male feminist, so I understand there are films which really do exploit these types of situations and events. The Gift is first and foremost about the specter of abuse, rape, sexual assault. Because going back to the original events which spurred Gordo on, they were fictitious. So why not give Simon a taste of his own medicine? That’s what it all hinges on, in my opinion. Gordo wanted Simon to experience exactly what he did. Right down to a big fake-out.
Ultimately, this is definitely a 4-star dramatic thriller with a good dose of mystery. Joel Edgerton’s done a fantastic job crafting a tense story. With the stellar main trio of performances this script comes alive. Sure, it is slow and at times moves with a snail’s pace. But that’s never a bad thing if the plot is compelling. And The Gift is absolutely compelling, if anything. It engages you with a highly adult story that stems from childhood, making you question how people change, can they actually change, is it possible to shake off the devastation of the past, among many other questions begging for an answer. The finale might shake many people. Even as a seasoned horror veteran, the end of the film is still shocking in its own right. Regardless, the whole ride is worth taking. Hopefully Edgerton takes on some more films soon as director because he’s got incredible sensibilities for directing in terms of shot composition, pacing, all the necessary elements. Only a few flaws to be found, but otherwise this is a taut, suspenseful piece of cinema.