A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.
When Clint Eastwood decided that he wanted to direct his first feature film back in 1971, he chose a dark, psychological thriller called “Play Misty for Me.” Naturally, the powers-that-be at Universal Pictures were nervous as it was his directorial debut but Mr. Eastwood had an ace up his sleeve in director Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry,” “Escape from Alcatraz”), a mentor and friend who helped guide and counsel him during production. The rest as they say, is history. With “The Gift,” actor Joel Edgerton (“The Thing,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings”), follows in Mr. Eastwood’s footsteps as he branches out into his first foray as a feature film director. Mr. Edgerton proves, just like Mr. Eastwood, that sometimes, actors can make the best filmmakers as they have gained much experience in front of the camera by successfully working with those behind it.
As the movie begins, we are introduced to a young couple, Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), who have just moved to California from Chicago. With a new job, and pretty soon a new house, the couple couldn’t be happier, that is until they have a chance encounter with Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old friend from Simon’s high school. Polite but quick to dismiss him, Simon exchanges pleasantries and then leaves. Gradually Robyn, who works from home, begins finding gifts on their porch doorstep, usually followed by the unexpected arrival of Gordo, who appears apprehensive and socially awkward. Robyn doesn’t feel threatened by him and has no problem inviting him in for coffee and a chat but when Simon finds out that he has been frequenting their house while he’s away at work, he lets Gordo know that he doesn’t appreciate his suspicious behavior and informs him to stay away.
For a while, everything reverts to normalcy but when Robyn one day casually mentions Gordo to Simon’s sister Duffy (Busy Philipps), unpleasant past memories resurface and with Simon portrayed as a bully back in the day with some very questionable behavior, Robyn begins her own investigation into her husband’s past that will shock her to her very core and change their lives forever. While the pacing of the movie is intentionally gradual, it is done so with great premeditation so as to allow director Edgerton the opportunity to weave his character’s intentions throughout the story, never once allowing the audience the opportunity to be apprised of his exact objectives. When the shocking finale is finally revealed, you actually find yourself rooting for Gordo, as we realize that the character of Simon has not changed since high school and that he is still a bully and will destroy other people’s lives in order to get what he wants, with absolutely no regret or remorse.
"The Gift” is impressive filmmaking. Director Joel Edgerton masterfully paints a contemplative tale, ripe with complexity and brimming with top-notch performances. Mr. Edgerton as Gordo brings silent menace to his role, never giving the audience a glimpse into his thought process but at the same time, emanating sadness, which makes you wonder exactly what damage Simon did to him in the past to cause such pain. Jason Bateman is inspired casting as he is mostly known as a comedic actor but here, he proves beyond a doubt, that he is more than up to the challenge. Of the three central performers, Ms. Hall’s Robyn is the one character who physically and emotionally evolves from the opening shot right up to the last. Watching her character transform from a quiet, timid housewife to a strong, tenacious and protective mother, as she gradually comprehends that her husband is not the person she thought he was, is what acting is all about.
In a summer filled with superheroes and dinosaurs, “The Gift” is a rare treat, a movie that focuses, first and foremost, on story development and character exposition and the elite in Hollywood need to stand up and take notice. As Mr. Edgerton’s feature film directorial debut, he proves, unequivocally, that he is a force to be reckoned with and should now be considered a double threat within the industry, a first-rate performer and a highly acclaimed director. I can’t wait to see what he offers up next.
In theaters August 7th
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com