tue 23/07/2019

The Gift | reviews, news & interviews

The Gift

The Gift

Far-from-formulaic thriller from actor-director Joel Edgerton, with Rebecca Hall

He's behind you: a couple make an unwanted new friend in 'The Gift'

People who live in glass houses should be careful who they antagonise. That's the superficial starting point of The Gift, the directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton, who takes the cuckoo-in-the-nest thriller template – which became ubiquitous in the early '90s with films like Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry, Single White Female and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle – and, by introducing psychological depth and a streak of social conscience, fashions an intriguing morality tale.

Jason Bateman (pictured below right) and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn; prompted by his fancy new information security sales job, they move from Chicago to an exposed modernist house high atop the California hills. She's a successful designer emerging from a depression brought about by a failed pregnancy, trying to build her business back up from home. When they bump into one of Simon's old schoolmates, Gordo (Edgerton himself), this awkward man takes a rather overzealous shine to them and starts showing up uninvited and leaving gifts on their doorstep.

Operating with a keen sense of the couple's vulnerability from the outset, both in terms of their easily penetrated abode and Robyn's fragile mental state, Edgerton skilfully ratchets up the tension and, along with cinematographer Eduard Grau – who did such beautiful work on A Single Man – crafts a cool, unnerving thriller, which contains a handful of decent jump-scares before it evolves into something more emotionally rich.

The GiftThis first-time helmer (who has also penned the screenplay) fleshes things out admirably, showing an eye for incidental background action (a husband is chided by his wife after belittling her at a work party; we notice Gordo clock Simon in the street long before he makes his initial approach) and this care stretches to the casting, characterisations and performances. Allison Tolman (TV's Fargo) and Wendell Pierce (The Wire) are amongst the skilfully selected supporting players, while Edgerton the chameleon-like actor plays Gordo as an atypical, enigmatic psycho; still and subtly strange, he's the anti-Ray Liotta, right down to his dark, inscrutable eyes. He's difficult to read and interesting to ponder, with the audience invited to pick and puzzle over him as we size up the threat.

He's well matched by seasoned comedian Bateman, in a rare serious role, whose easy charm is shrewdly employed and who proves he has the dramatic chops to slip into the skin of a man whose slick facade is gradually peeled away to reveal something substantially more ugly. And Hall is compellingly sensitive in the film's most sympathetic role, bringing a welcome note of sweetness to the abounding cynicism and increasing aggression, and going from passive to active as her investigations lead her to uncover the uncomfortable truth about the state of her relationship. We also view events through her compassionate eyes, adding further complexity to our perception of Gordo.

The Gift is ostensibly about the power of an idea, but this thoughtful film encourages us to look afresh at our own behaviour and relationships, and it has plenty to say about the way in which women (or indeed anyone) can become victims of, or be diminished by, a domineering personality, about our failure to see what's right in front of us, about the far-reaching consequences of our actions, and about the take-no-prisoners world of big business where bullies and psychopaths rise to the top. This gift might be wrapped up in the paper and ribbon of a generic thriller, but what's inside will pleasantly surprise.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Gift

This thoughtful film encourages us to look afresh at our own behaviour and relationships

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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