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THE GIFT (review)

11.1408THE GIFT

Written and Directed by Joel Edgerton / Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Joel Edgerton

Simon: We used to call him Gordo the Weirdo.

I’ve always rated movies with one criteria – would I want to see it again? Good movies are fun to return to; great ones improve with every viewing. For me, stalker themed flicks are immediately disposable. They’re cinematic Kleenex – good for one use only. With the exception of FATAL ATTRACTION, once we know why-they-done-it and get their inevitable comeuppance, does one really want to see the movie again?

I had high expectations going into THE GIFT, Joel Edgerton’s feature length directorial debut. I was impressed with THE SQUARE, an indie he wrote years ago and as an actor, he has been on my radar since he came onto the scene with two outstanding performances in ANIMAL KINGDOM and WARRIOR. I hoped he would bring an original, Australian sensibility to a tired old genre. I wanted to be wowed. I thought I wasn’t. Until …

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Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, a young married couple who have moved to L.A. from Chicago to kickstart their lives. Simon is there with a new job and Robyn seems to be recovering slowly after suffering a miscarriage. While shopping at a store, they run into Gordon (Edgerton), a high school classmate of Simon’s. Gordo, as he is known by, is off-putting, a little dead in the eyes, a little skittish, disarmingly shy and inarticulate. Thinking this would be a one-time meeting, Simon and Robyn are surprised the next day with a gift of an expensive bottle of wine at their doorstep, left by Gordo, welcoming them to the neighbourhood (he had overheard Robyn give their address to the sales clerk for their purchase to be delivered). To reciprocate, they invite him over for dinner, which turns into a squeamishly uncomfortable evening. After yet another gift and an unwelcome visit from Gordo to Robyn when she is home alone, Simon is convinced that his former classmate is obsessed with his wife. He intends to break all ties with this perceived psychopath when accepting an invitation to Gordo’s home, much to Robyn’s chagrin as she senses a kindred spirit in Gordo. To disclose more would ruin the many elements of surprise that this movie delivers in spades.

It took me a few days to realize just how masterful THE GIFT is. My initial reaction to Edgerton’s take on the classic horror/stalker convention was one of irritation. The obligatory jump out of your seat and scream scene that has nothing to do with the storyline was done better with Ellen Burstyn going up into the attic with a candle in THE EXORCIST. The naked woman in the shower is almost a direct steal of Brian de Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL, which, in itself, was an “homage” to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. Yes, there’s even a dead animal in the water in this movie! But then, like the first plot twist in THE GIFT, it hit me. Edgerton slyly has his audience in the palm of his hand. We contemptuously think he is leading us in one direction and he sucker punches us in the face. The last twenty minutes of this movie are not merely a rollercoaster of a ride that neatly ties everything into place, they go from OMG to WTF to me cackling with glee when the end credits started to roll.

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There is a great theatricality to Edgerton’s direction as he excels in bringing out the best in his actors to the detriment of the look of the movie. Bateman takes his usual movie persona to great heights and beautifully shows a dark and sinister side that we have never seen before. This should be the ticket to land him meatier, more substantial roles in the future. Edgerton’s performance is deliciously mesmerizing; directing himself brings out the best in him. But it’s the almost always impeccable Hall that is the heart and soul of this movie. It’s a beguiling performance of Streep-esque proportions.

THE GIFT really is a gift unto itself that offers more genuine surprises and twists than the complete M. Night Shyamalan catalogue. I can’t wait to see it again and if you recall my intro, you would know that’s a very good thing.

4 sheep

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give The Gift?

2 Comments

  1. I saw this movie and thought it was a masterful work of art that had me hooked for the entire time. The plot twists were unexpected and had me emotionally caught in extremes – feeling enraged at times and happy at other times. While I personally don’t like “scary” movies, I have to say that this isn’t as scary as I thought and encourage others to see this unpredictable film.

  2. I was lucky enough to have been given a pass to the preview of this movie The Gift. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had expectations of some sort of horror flick and instead saw a psychological drama with twists and turns. I loved the acting by all three characters. Jason Bateman has become a stellar actor since his days on television. He is nasty in this movie, someone I would never want my daughter to bring home. Rebecca Hall played a great role as his wife…i would call her a ‘battered’ wife.Edgerton was excellent as Gordo. So creepy right from the beginning. I enjoyed every moment of this film. I was on the edge of my seat through most of it. It was so well crafted. I would highly revommend it.

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