Starring: Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Rebecca Hall (The Town), Joel Edgerton (Warrior)
Writer/Director: Joel Edgerton
Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes
Release Date: 7 August (US, UK)
Joel Edgerton gets kind of a bad rap, and I think that’s a shame. He often gets lumped in with “generic” actors like Sam Worthington or Liam Hemsworth or Jai Courtney, but I don’t really see the similarities other than that they’re all Aussies. Sure, he’s made some questionable acting choices like Exodus or The Thing prequel, but films like Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty and The Great Gatsby show he has far more range than just being another generically good-looking white guy to shove in action fodder. Now he’s branching out to directing, which is a move that is either met with great praise or indifference depending on the final product. The Gift is that first one. A well-crafted and effective thriller, it’s a potential sign of great things to come from Edgerton.
The Gift is an incredibly hard film to talk about because to really explain why it’s so good, I’d have to ruin half the plot. I don’t want to do that, so please excuse my incredibly vague praise. For a film with a deliberately slow pace and a lack of action (the height of physical intensity is a brick being thrown through a window), The Gift is an incredibly tense and gripping thriller through just simple character interaction, not too dissimilar to classic Alfred Hitchcock pictures like Rear Window. The story has its predictable moments, but like all good thrillers it knows how to play with your expectations and switches up the game every time you think it’s over. The film builds from just an awkward situation to possibly something deeper and darker, but the film’s greatest strength is that it leaves a lot of the digging to the audience. Edgerton knows when to leave things quiet and let the situation play out, allowing the audience to not only figure it out but also interpret what they think is really going on. The film’s final moments are highly ambiguous, which may frustrate some viewers who want a definitive answer, but it perfectly wraps up a very well played game of cards and fits perfectly in with the film’s twisted view. Again, without saying too much, it’s ultimately the “boy who cries wolf” story taken to its final destination and a cautionary tale about how one insignificant moment in one person’s life can drastically alter another’s. Read into that what you will.
With a film that relies this heavily on character, you’re going to need some damn fine performances and the triple threat of Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Edgerton himself are certainly up to the task. Bateman is another actor most people underestimate, mainly because he’s usually typecast as yet another variant of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. But when allowed to do something a little different, he can be phenomenally good and here he gets that chance. Like the film’s plot, the characters of The Gift are very ambiguous and Bateman’s character very much fits that description. From moment to moment, you either sympathise with this guy or hate his guts, and that game of flip-flop is what helps keep the tension so high. Edgerton casting himself in a supporting role is a smart move that allows him to focus on directing, but he’s no slouch in his performance. His character of Gordo is meant to be hard to read and Edgerton does a good job of balancing the line between disturbing creep and well-meaning simpleton. He’s a peculiar guy, but there’s a lot of sympathy in him too that makes him relatable. I’ve known people like this; heck, I’ve probably been this guy to someone in some way. Rebecca Hall acts as mediator between these two personalities, and she does a great job of being the audience perspective in this increasingly uncomfortable scenario.
This has been a hard line to balance on, but ultimately the takeaway from this should be that you should see The Gift. It’s a solid and nail biting thriller made out of a seemingly unexciting situation, and one that offers a unique perspective in a genre that has gotten all too predictable. It’s not Gone Girl good, but for a late summer release from a first-time director it’s highly impressive. I don’t see Edgerton getting signed on to direct the next Hollywood blockbuster, but if he keeps putting out little movies as good as this I’ll happily go see them.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10
P. S. : I’ve put the trailer here as usual, but if you’ve not watched it I’d urge you actually not to. I went into the movie pretty cold, and I think that’s the best way to watch it.