At first glance “The Gift” looked like another movie about a creepy guy with a secret who dupes and then terrorizes a naïve family. We’ve seen this before, even last year with “The Guest”. But looks can be deceiving and just like the naïve families in these films, I was expecting one thing but what I got was surprisingly different – a mesmerizing swirl of twists, turns, and revelations that consistently subverted every expectation I had.
I’ve been a big fan of Joel Edgerton since he grabbed my attention in 2010’s “Animal Kingdom”. “The Gift” is clearly his movie where he serves as co-star, co-producer, writer, and director. Edgerton has received several past writing credits but this original work may be his best. Even more impressive, the film marks Edgerton’s directorial debut and it doesn’t take long to realize he knows his way behind a camera. There is an undeniable harmony between Edgerton’s writing and direction. Both fluidly combine to reveal his keen sense of storytelling which transcends any limitations such as the film’s meager $5 million budget. Edgerton is completely in tune with his characters and the tone that he is going for. Perhaps most importantly the story doesn’t dumb itself down or lazily rely on overused clichés. It certainly hits some of the normal genre ticks, but you almost sense that it’s doing it to set the audience up in order to pull the rug out from under them later on.
Jason Bateman is perfectly cast to play the confident and controlling Simon. He and his wife Robyn (played equally well by Rebecca Hall) have just moved to Los Angeles from Chicago after he gets a swanky new job at a large security firm. Their move was also influenced by hopes of leaving some difficulties behind and starting a new chapter in their relationship. It begins with them buying a stylish new home in an upperclass neighborhood.
One day while accessory shopping for their new home they run into Gordo (Edgerton), a timid and mousy former classmate of Simon’s. The chance meeting leads to a series of awkward encounters. Gordo begins leaving them house gifts and popping up during the day while Simon is at work. Simon is leery and uncomfortable around Gordo while Robyn is a bit more sympathetic and curious. This leads to the film’s key focus – three characters confronted with truth, consequences, and sins from the past. To tell any more would be doing a disservice.
The three central performances are vital. Bateman often relegates himself to lame raunchy comedies, but here he shows an extraordinary natural bend that tops anything he has done to date. Rebecca Hall continues to be one of our most earnest and expressive actresses, delivering superb work while tackling the most emotionally complex character of the three. But Edgerton’s performance may be the key. It would be easy for him to fall into conventional traps but he steers clear of that. Instead he gives us a character so thoroughly cryptic. One minute he has us challenging our sympathies and the next we are squirming in your seats.
Edgerton listed Hitchcock and Haneke among his influences for the film and you can sense it. A stealthy and tense Hitchcockian vibe flows from the title screen to the end credits. Edgerton has given us a crafty thriller made with an impeccable sense of pacing. It is deceptively smart, hypnotically intense, and most importantly it never tips its hand. This is one of the more impressive directorial debuts and Joel Edgerton has exposed himself to be a gifted filmmaker and storyteller. Here’s hoping we get a lot more from him in the future.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Yes! Oh yes! 4.5 out of 5 is great to see, I thought I was being a bit sensational. 😀
I thought The Gift was extraordinary, even discounting the directorial debut aspect. Performances were intense, the pacing was great, the twists were absurdly effective and that finale was incredible. One of 2015’s greats in my book.
100% agree X 2!
I don’t think you’re being sensational at all. I was glued to the screen. And I agree, the performances are intense. I’ve often dismissed Bateman but he blew me away. But I really must say Edgerton is the star. The screenplay was brilliant, the direction was that of the seasoned kind, and the performance was pitch perfect.
I’d have to agree. Edgerton is just awesome on all fronts. I learned through doing my digging here he was behind last year’s The Rover, or wrote a story upon which the movie was based. I found that interesting. Really liked that movie as grim as it was. Guy is supremely talented.
Indeed he did. The Rover was in my Top 5 from last year. I always thought it would be great to read Edgerton’s story and compare it to Michôd’s film.
I really wish I could see this damn movie*. You’re review sounds to be pretty much in line with everyone else’s, in that it’s fucking amazing. Nice one, man!
*I have the worst theater in the world and they didn’t get it.
It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking buddy. I was blown away by the performances, the intensity, and Edgerton’s top tier direction. You gotta track this thing down!
The Gift. Never even heard of it, Keith! Thanks for reviewing this. I will definitely check it out 🙂
It is fabulous Cindy. A spotlight for Joel Edgerton’s talents as writer and now director. And (of all people) Bateman gives what may be my favorite performance of the year. This is a must see.
Joel has come a long way! I have always liked him as a supporting actor. It’s nice to see him blossoming. Glad he’s directing.
He really won me over in Animal Kingdom. He is more of a supporting role here but it’s a pivotal one. But his script is sooo strong and I can’t wait to see what he directs next.
YES! I was riveted throughout, the performances were amazing, the directing was sharp, and nothing is wasted. One of the best of the year. Great, unspoiled review post Keith.
Thanks man. Appreciate the comments and I’m with you. One of my favorites of the year. Those performances! So intensely authentic. Absolutely loved this flick. Already anxious to see it again.
This one has slipped under my radar so far but your review really makes me want to see it! I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Hall’s performances in the past and I like the idea of Bateman in a more dramatic role. Great review Keith.
Thanks! Definitely, definitely see it. The cast is superb and the film itself is one big surprise. Edgerton has established himself as a writer and director in my book.
Hope it still plays at my cinema for another week. Fingers crossed!
This movie sounds like one you would’ve never expected to be good yet somehow it’s great. Can’t wait to see this.
It is one of those cases where I was going to let it slide by at the theater but the good reviews spiked my interest. Sooo glad I checked it out. A very smart and crafty thriller anchored by three truly superb performances. You really should check it out.
Great review! I liked this one quite a bit more than I expected to as well. You’re right, you go in thinking you’re getting one thing, and you get something completely different.
Edgerton really knocked it out of the park. This movie really surprised me. That third act is just insane and you end up in a place you never expected. Glad I saw it before it left theaters.
Wow, another stellar review of this film. I just read Tom’s the other day, now I’m very curious to check this out! I really like Edgerton as an actor, even as Pharaoh (in which he was grossly miscast) he was still watchable. Have you seen the Aussie drama Felony yet Keith? I highly recommend that if you like Edgerton.
Oh yes. I caught up with Felony. Another movie written by Edgerton. You MUST see this one Ruth. Probably my biggest and best surprise of the year so far. Three stellar performances and a story that is far more than it appears to be. I’m a big fan of this one.
Yes I will! I also like Rebecca Hall & Jason Bateman, curious to see him in a non-comedic role. It’s not overly violent/gory right? As you know I can’t handle those, but I like mystery/suspense stuff, sounds like this one is that way as you mention his Hitchcock influence.
Here’s the funny thing Ruth, the first trailer made it look like it could have some intense violence. Not the case at all. In fact if you look at the description for the R rating, all it says is language. For me that was the first clue that this may be something different.
As for Bateman, his raunchy comedy roles led to me dismissing him. This performance changes that. He is brilliant here. I love Rebecca Hall and she is great as always. And Edgerton… I can’t say enough.
Man, all these awesome reviews for this movie. I never even heard of this one before this past few days. It looks great but my theatres near me are only showing dubbed in French so ughh.. frustrating. I’ll just have to wait for its arrival on Netflix. Great review!
Oh that stinks! This one has flown under the radar but I’m glad it is getting some buzz. It really is a solid movie in almost every regard.
I thought the film was very well directed but the writing was lacking – the ending wasn’t strong, it had so many holes in it, it’s a shame Edgerton didn’t put more thought in it. But other than that it was a very good thriller.
I kinda loved the writing. It kept me on my toes and never tipped its hand. The ending definitely left things up in the air but I liked that. Clearly that story had more to tell but it leaves it to our imagination.
This popped up on my radar but I hadn’t heard a single thing about it. Your review’s definitely got me a lot more intrigued. Going to see if i can check it out. Cheers, Keith!
Awesome Jaina. It absolutely deserves an audience. It is really good and Edgerton has me excited for what he is going to do behind the camera in the future.
Too scary for me and I didnt think the ending really worked. Just not my type of film but I see why you liked it.
Another surprise for me and a film that came completely out of nowhere. I really think Edgerton has a knack for both sides of the camera.
Yeah he did a good job. Still not enough to erase his awfulness in Exodus movie. He was so bad in that…
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