The 400-Word Review: The Gift
By Sean Collier
August 10, 2015
If you didn’t know that The Gift was the vision of a single creator going in, the closing credits clear it up pretty quickly. The new thriller was written, directed and produced by Joel Edgerton, who also stars as the film’s villain, a troubled loner named Gordo. As is often the case with films that emerge not by committee but by singular force, The Gift is a tougher film than most; it concludes in almost defiant fashion, daring the audience to try and find a way to feel.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) relocate from Chicago to Los Angeles after Simon gets a big promotion. On move-in day, they run into Gordo, who went to high school with Simon; Simon doesn’t initially remember him, and when he does, he’s evasive on the details of their history. Quickly, though, Gordo starts showing up on the couple’s doorstep to leave presents — or invite himself in.
Something is off about Gordo, in a way that makes the audience complicit in Simon’s judgment; he’s polite, he’s giving, he’s open — and yet, he’s identifiably creepy. Robyn, lonely and disengaged by life in their sprawling, (literally) glass house, wants to be kind to him, but Simon grows more put off by Gordo’s interest.
More would reveal The Gift’s twists and turns. Many of those developments are telegraphed from a mile out; you’ll only miss anything if you stop paying attention, at least until the conclusion. It’s more than a simple mystery, though; The Gift explores the consequences of personal trauma and the motivations, both noble and cruel, of outwardly normal people.
The core of the cast is quite good, with Bateman effortlessly shutting off his comedic tendencies; like fellow comedy star Steve Carell, Bateman is able to subtly shift his attitude from amusing to cocky and arrogant. Hall, by rights the main character (despite having the lowest billing in the film’s marketing), is relatable and powerful. And while I’m normally skeptical of director/actors, Edgerton clearly has such an intimate understanding of his villain that I’m not sure anyone else could’ve played it.
As a director, Edgerton’s skills are marginal; he relies heavily on jump scares and foreshadowing. But, while The Gift left me a bit thrown when I walked out of the theater, I’m more impressed with it a few days later; its choices are bold, and the results are affecting.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark