My Rating: [usr 3.5]
The Gift marks the directorial debut of 41 year-old Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom (2010), Warrior (2011), The Great Gatsby (2013)), and based on this film alone, his future behind the camera as well as in front looks bright. It’s a slick, smart, and subversive thriller that plays with the expectations of the creepy friend/home invasion genre.
Edgerton directs with a keen eye towards detail and an obvious knowledge of cinema, genre, plot, and pacing. The screenplay, also by Edgerton, peels back layer upon layer, keeping the audience guessing and the tension mounting, without succumbing to the typical genre trappings. The pacing is slow but never dull or boring.
His script gives little clues and hints of all the underlying fear and anxiety the three main characters are desperately trying to hide. He feeds us just enough information to keep us interested and wanting to know more.
The three main stars — Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Edgerton — are not simple caricatures. Each character has grey shades about them. While Edgerton’s creepy Gordo may be the film’s villain on paper, by the time the film ends you’re left wondering who’s really the villain and who’s really the victim.
How far is each person willing to go to reason with it? Gordo, Simon and Robyn become more and more flawed as the film goes on. Secrets get revealed and your opinion of each character will likely change over the course of the film.
Bateman, Hall, and Edgerton are all fantastic. Each actor is a bit underrated or underappreciated in their own right, so it’s great to see them get an opportunity to carry an entire film and do it well. Bateman is typically cast as the straight man in comedy roles, and here he plays a Bateman esque type character. However, as the film proceeds along and we find out more about his character’s past, we come to learn that he was the cool kid in high school who liked to bully people. One of those people, Edgerton’s Gordo, especially has an axe to grind with Bateman’s Simon. It’s a great example of against type casting.
Even though Bateman receives top billing, it’s actress Rebecca Hall who has the most screen time. Despite playing the innocent bystander, we also come to learn about her traumatic recent past as well. And Edgerton is appropriately creepy as Gordo, keeping you wondering just how off-kilter he really is.
The Gift is more than just a typical revenge type thriller. It’s about the past and how there are some things from the past that you can’t escape. Gordo tells Simon that, “You may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you.” It’s also about deception and how looks can sometimes be deceiving.
The ending of the film is pretty shocking, and one that will keep you guessing and even interpreting after you’ve seen the film. While The Gift is a bit too slight to be called great, Joel Edgerton has a bright future behind the camera, and I eagerly await to see his next effort behind the camera.