If you like a thriller that has enough thrills to keep you guessing on the edge of your seat and is laced with both depth and heft you would not expect from or normally associate with the genre, then make yourself a gift and watch … The Gift (2015).
This is the feature debut of actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton. In fact, he wrote the screenplay, is credited as the producer and also acts in it. I had previously seen Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (2013) and his performance had left me with a meh level of enthusiasm. I thought that his Tom Buchanan was too simplified and rather one-dimensional and perhaps overplayed. But on second thought he was working under the helm of Baz Luhrmann whose movies I quite enjoy and for whom exuberance is his very trademark.
This is also not the first instance of actors looking for recognition behind the lens. George Clooney has tried it with less than moderate success and he should definitely not give up his day job. Ben Affleck, on the other hand, has impressed us with great films and ironically his most celebrated film, Argo (2012) was in my view the weakest of them all. So I was curious to see if Joel Edgerton can impress me. And impress me he did!
Some movies may take a while to win you over, but this one had me already convinced after just the first few minutes. In fact, throughout the film I was surprised how this could be a debut as it showed the steady hands of a crafted director. The shots were great, the acting, including and especially his own was commendable, and the pacing and writing superb.
What makes this movie different from others of the genre is its psychological depth and its restraint. Edgerton plays it close to the heart and reveals only bits of information. All of it feels rather organic, and with only a very few (perhaps necessary) exceptions, there is hardly any artifice or manipulation at work. Like a good puzzle we have the bits and pieces and it builds up to an overall impressive and satisfying whole.
What this movie may lack on gore and horror, it makes up in terms of emotions. In fact, in my view, this is what gives the horror genre its strength. For instance, I would consider Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I live in (2011) one of the most harrowing and terrifying films I have seen. Not because of bloodshed, but because of its emotional turmoil and repercussions. The Gift makes me feel the same way.
Edgerton has made a great film in the guise of a thriller. Its pay-off may look in a bizarre and eerie way similar (yet quite different) to Alan Parker's disastrous ending in The Life of David Gale (2003), but in this case its impact hits us, alongside the main character, in the gut. I did not foresee it but even if you did, it packs a wallop (again for those who like their smarts).
The greatest treat is that Edgerton not only keeps us guessing and entertained, but more importantly, he treats us and our intelligence with respect. Moreover, the message is inspiring, and I for one - not wanting to give away any spoilers here - thought it also relevant and profoundly affecting.