MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Stars: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Tim Griffin, Allison Tolman, Beau Knapp, P.J. Byrne, David Denman, Busy Philipps, Wendell Pierce, Katie Aselton/ Runtime: 109 minutes
I feel it is safe to say that the only more under-served genre for moviegoers, besides the typical adult dramedy or an immersive fantasy, is the classic thriller. To be fair it isn’t hard to see why though. This is because you really truly can only find new and intriguing ways to thrill your target audience before the well quickly runs dry and you are left with barely passable films that ultimately let down their audience rather than genuinely consume them with both fear and uncertainty in equal measure.
This of course brings us to Joel Edgerton’s 2015 film The Gift, and astonishingly this is the first thriller in a while that I can say with certainty will leave an imprint on the viewer for a long time. Is it because of the film’s rich cinematography, expertly paced narrative, and terrific cast? No, but that is a significant part of what makes this film work as well as it does. Rather, the reason that The Gift will leave its mark as a truly unsettling yet unique film is for the plain and simple reason that this is a film which gets you as an audience member to look introspectively at the wrongs you may’ve committed in your life up to the point that you first watch this, and then sends a chill or 3 down your spine as it showcases to you a scenario that, as frightening as it may sound, could plausibly happen to any of us at any point in our day-to-day lives.
The plot is as follows: The Gift focuses on a married couple by the name of Simon and Robyn who have just moved into a new home in Los Angeles due to Simon’s job as a security system salesman and Robyn needing a chance for a fresh start due to issues with her anxiety among other things. It isn’t long however before their new life is thrown for an unexpected loop when, whilst out shopping for their new home, they manage to run into a man named Gordon “Gordo” Moseley. Gordo it appears is an old classmate of Simon’s from high school albeit one who seems to be a few beers short of a six-pack. Of course it isn’t long before Gordo decides to start making gestures of a kind yet creepy and invasive nature towards the couple ranging from delivering wine to stopping by while Robyn is home alone to keep her company. Yet while Robyn believes Gordo is simply a lost little soul, Simon doesn’t see him as that. If anything, Simon sees him as an annoying pest and a reminder from the past that he would rather just wash his hands of, and be done with for good. Thus it isn’t long after a particularly awkward dinner that Simon plain and simply requests that Gordo stay away. Of course, as you should all know or guess by now, Gordo doesn’t exactly choose to do this, wouldn’t be a movie if that was the case, thus leading our couple down a rabbit hole full of twists and turns that will ultimately force themselves to ask the question of what exactly do they really know about one another….
Now this may seem simple, but I promise you this movie is most certainly everything but. This is all really due to how wonderfully this film is driven not by a series of ever-growing plot events, but rather through our continuously-evolving takes on just what kind of people the lead characters in this film’s story really are. Indeed this is a super smart script in how it chooses to not only drop hints about the past, but also in revealing secrets that help the audience understand more about Robyn, Simon and Gordo at just the right moments throughout this film’s runtime. Yet what is most impressive of all is how each of these carefully laid out puzzle pieces manages to throw you for a curve every time thus keeping this movie delightfully unpredictable. Indeed, although there will most definitely be points where you think you have the puzzle figured out, I nevertheless can promise you that you don’t. Not by a long shot.
Yet the main thing that really aids in the entirety of this film being able to click together as well as it does is the fact that Edgerton has a sharp eye for detail and in drawing your attention to just what exactly it is that he wants you to see. Thus I feel that Mr. Edgerton really truly does possesses a great respect and mastery for the gift of exposition because absolutely none of the big revelations that this movie ultimately drops on you ever once either feel awkwardly deposited or deposited with the sole intention of just moving the story forward. Instead they are so well done that, upon completion the first time around, you will find yourself immediately wanting to re-watch it simply because you realize that there must be details of information scattered throughout that may have seemed innocent enough, but that you know realize were actually vital pieces of information towards solving this movie’s giant puzzle.
Now given that Edgerton has been an actor first and foremost in his Hollywood career, I feel that it should therefore come with no surprise attached that The Gift is a very performance-driven film. Nevertheless praise is absolutely warranted in regards to both who Edgerton recruited for the roles as well as for the portrayal of those roles. This of course starts with Rebecca Hall as Robyn and she really manages to bring both a wonderful intelligence mixed with a quiet empathy to her performance. Yet I feel that this is no accident; after all we as audience-members are meant to see most of events that occur in the movie play out from Robyn’s perspective, and the fact is Rebecca Hall is fully aware of this. Thus she manages to deliver what is one truly wonderful performance that is a brilliant mix of determination as she attempts to figure out just what exactly is being kept from her, but also a degree of reservation since she is also hiding some things as well. Jason Bateman is also absolutely brilliant as Simon because the dry comedic sensibilities and everyman likability that have been the trademark for Bateman’s career in the eyes of audiences up to this point are actually completely subverted and then wonderfully morphed into something else by film’s end and Bateman nails it through and through. Indeed it really is enough to remind you that Bateman is more than just a talented comedic actor; he’s just a damn good actor period when given the right material. Of course it should without saying, but Edgerton is perfect in the role he wrote for himself. Yet I find that his role is actually in a way quite challenging. This is not only because Edgerton maybe has about 49 minutes of screen time tops, but because he has to sell a character one way and, as the film goes on, challenge the audience to see him in a different light by the end of it. Yet I feel that Edgerton not only succeeds in making every minute of screen time he is given count, but he also manages to make Gordo a complex three-dimensional character with his own layers and issues as well.
Now although Edgerton does manage to showcase some truly wonderful talent in managing to craft this film’s dramatic, puzzling, and quite intricate narrative, I do feel that it must be said that this film is in possession of a few unfortunate complications in regard to the film’s pacing. This is because a specific caveat in regards to just how the story is presented to us is that the events of the film’s plot must gradually unfold over a surprisingly long period of time, and while in certain movies this isn’t a problem that’s not the case here. Thus it must be said that there will be certain portions of the movie feel too drawn out, and while the movie will never lose your attention, the lulls it does contain do come dangerously close to causing just that to happen.
All in all it’s clear that The Gift is supposed to be Joel Edgerton’s way of making the kind of slow-burn mystery of sorts that legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock made so well in his day. Yet I feel that rather than trying to be a poor imitation of the master’s work that this film is actually a very loving tribute and a just as wonderfully made throwback. Indeed it may be a slow-burn, which may deter some of you from checking it out, but if you do manage to stick with this one through to the end I promise you that it most certainly will have been worth it. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Gift a 3.5 out of 5.