The Gift director, writer and star Joel Edgerton is one of those actors who is endlessly dependable in every film he’s appeared in. He’s rarely the headline name, arguably not a fully-fledged “star” in the sense many of the actors he’s worked with over the years. But he’s a talent, no two ways about it, the man can act, is a chameleon in many of his films and as such The Gift, which marks his directorial feature debut, is a tantalising prospect.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have just moved into a new house in a new city having upped sticks from Chicago. While out shopping one day Simon runs into old schoolmate Gordo (Edgerton) who he doesn’t immediately place. But with their friendship seemingly rekindled Gordo proceeds to insert himself into the couple’s lives. Before long Gordo is leaving gifts for the couple and Simon’s relationship with him back at school might not be quite how it was originally portrayed.
There is a theory among producers that thrillers, whodunits and mysteries don’t quite sell on the big screen the way they used to. That the media of on-demand TV and series such as Broadchurch offer audiences their fix of that genre without needing to go to cinemas. So the kind of films that were essentially bread and butter to Alfred Hitchcock and laid the foundations to the likes of Brian De Palma, David Fincher, Roman Polanski, David Lynch and countless others heralded filmmakers had become an endangered species. Edgerton’s The Gift goes a long way to disproving that theory. In many ways The Gift demonstrates that they DO make them like they used to.
Because throughout the film you are riveted to the story, second guessing every line of dialogue, trying to out-smart the cat and mouse while always trying to figure out who is said creatures in that paradigm. Edgerton’s execution from both a scripting and directing point of view are accomplished and immersive. The Gift offers up enough tension to have you chewing your nails to nubs. His camera slowing creeping further and further into Simon and Robyn’s life while his script constantly plants endless possibilities to such a degree as to have you three steps behind but loving every revelation that comes your way.
The brilliance of Edgerton’s script is how it drip feeds you information about the characters, altering your frame of reference like a slowing solving Rubik’s Cube that, once all the pieces are in position, leaves you gasping at the revelations on offer. Furthermore, as the tension rises he’s able to conjure some frights and jumps that are wonderfully organic as opposed to the standard shock-jumps we’ve become so accustomed to. If the psychological thrillers of the ‘90s were your cup of tea, the likes of Unlawful Entry, Sleeping With The Enemy and Fatal Attraction, then The Gift is going to have you shrieking with delight and occasional fear.
Hall is solid as Robyn, the lonely housewife who wants to befriend the equally lonely Gordo. Edgerton is brilliantly sinister, his look all beady-eyed yet charmingly shy and lonely. The way he’s able to portray so many different fallacies and angles to Gordo makes him the perfect antagonist. But it is Bateman in a rare serious role who shines brightest. His Simon is at first utterly charming but as his options become more stacked against him there is a wavering anger, an inner rage that offers hints of a man both on the edge and firmly in control of his own destiny.
A gripping, thrilling and endlessly engaging film, The Gift is the gift that keeps on giving.