Australian actor Joel Edgerton is best known to American audiences as the star of the MMA drama “Warrior” and as Tom Buchanan in Baz Luhrman’s version of “The Great Gatsby”. “The Gift” is Edgerton’s feature film directorial debut. It’s a tense and genuinely suspenseful thriller which he also wrote, co-produced and co-stars in, alongside the always solid Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman, who delivers a career-best performance.
Bateman plays Simon and Hall is his wife Robyn. They’ve just moved from Chicago to California for Simon’s new job, and into a luxurious new house in the SoCal hills. While shopping, they run into one of Simon’s old classmates from high school – Gordon Mosley (played by Edgerton). From their conversation, “Gordo” seems a little…quirky, or as Robyn puts it “socially awkward”. But pretty soon, Gordo shows up at their home uninvited and brings them the first of a series of gifts: a bottle of wine.
Following dinner and more unexpected visits from Gordo when Robyn is home alone with their family dog, Simon thinks it’s best if the couple’s relationship with Gordo should end, telling his wife that kids used to call him “Gordo the Weirdo” in school, and that his somewhat strange personality hasn’t really changed much in the past 25 years. There’s a dramatic plot twist and suddenly “The Gift” begins a roller coaster ride of surprises, each coming at a terrific pace – making you question what you thought you knew about these complex people and where this story was going.
As the stakes get elevated, so does our interest. “The Gift” is one of those movies where paying attention early helps in figuring out the causes of events as they unfold. There are so many layers to these characters that you are constantly unsure who’s really to blame for what’s taking place. Edgerton bravely turns the modern thriller genre on its head, masterfully unwrapping his bold vision. Several times he holds a camera shot just past the point where it’s no longer comfortable for the audience, including a close-up of the pet dog that I still can’t get out of my mind. Only a few scenes feel over-dramatized for effect.
Bateman, who’s starred in a string of comedies over the years, gets to show-off his true acting abilities in several showcase scenes. Hall is excellent as a confused, stressed, good-hearted but psychologically troubled woman. And Edgerton’s Gordo is both sinister and sympathetic and simply fascinating to observe.
Even if you think you’ve figured out where “The Gift” is headed for its finale, the last major twist will throw you for a loop and leave you in a much different state of mind than when you entered the theater – which is exactly what a great thriller should do.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Gift” gets a B+.
Running Time: 108 min.