The Gift’s greatest virtue is the same thing that keeps it from being a great film. The signature mystery at the center of the film keeps you off balance for the majority of the running time, but when it’s finally revealed, it’s a bit of a letdown. That doesn’t mean the movie is a complete misfire.
Writer/director/star Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut casts him the creepy Gordo, a man who shows up in the lives of a couple, Simon(Jason Bateman) and Robyn(Rebecca Hall), and sets off firecrackers when his past connection with Simon produces a few awkward encounters. To Simon, an ambitious businessman who doesn’t have a problem stepping on people for success, Gordo is a bug that can’t be squashed fast enough. To his wife, of course, the outsider is a fragile man who needs a friend. The juice is what happened between Gordo and Simon way back then that made this connection reappear? That drives the film and while the navigation here isn’t bad, the end result is questionable.
Edgerton’s strength as a director is setting up a mood and using one of those fancy modern glass homes like its a supporting character in this mystery thriller. Robyn and Simon have a troubled past, and she doesn’t feel safe in her own home because, well, 90 percent of it is visible from the outside. Who lives in these homes and actually gets a good nap? Gordo comes around, and the pot stirs. The whole mood is Hitchockian in its slow build and its refusal to go for gore or flash effects is a welcome sight. It’s an old fashioned thriller that simply unfolds like a monstrous bed sheet.
Edgerton’s weakness is the script, which carries some weight initially but loses some mph on its fastball in the third act. The red herrings of distress are visible and when the big reveal does come down, let’s just say you saw something like that coming but suspected it was worse. A very human flaw lies at the bottom of this pit instead of something, dare I say, more sinister. It’s like being promised a juicy steak and the pan comes off and it’s a harmless pork chop.
The key player here is Bateman, who twists his cinema persona towards a darker shade of gray here. Edgerton noted in interviews that he wanted the comedy actor because of the audience’s ability to instantly like him and want him to win. Bateman is digestible. An able everyman comedy actor who sometimes dabbles in drama and occasionally stretches himself. The only other film he put two feet in drama was 2012’s Disconnect(a poor man’s Crash). Here, Bateman uses the trust in his fans like a car dealer would and he pulls you into something you don’t quite expect. Out of everything I saw in The Gift, Bateman was the surprise. You’ll recognize the charisma but won’t like where it goes.
Edgerton and Hall provide fine work, but don’t do much to stand out. Hall refuses to simply play a victim and stands toe to toe with Bateman, but is an accomplished actress so I expected it. Edgerton gives himself a decent sized pool to swim around in and create Gordo, a man we are grown to be scared of but may have misjudged. The rest of the cast are mere faces in a crowded diner.
Is The Gift worth seeing right away? No. It’s a decent thriller with a good cast but a somewhat lukewarm ending. Save it for a dark night in your apartment. We should praise the fact that it’s not a sequel, reboot, remake, or television show adaptation but recognize it’s only an okay piece of work. It’s not a horror film and it doesn’t have a lot of messy blood(only a ton of profanity). If The Gift proves anything, it’s that Jason Bateman has more tricks up his sleeve and Edgerton has a future as a director.