by Pete Schulte
“The Gift” may very well be Joel Edgerton’s (“The Great Gatsby,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings”) feature film directorial debut, but once the credits roll, you’ll wonder how he hasn’t been at it for years. “The Gift” proves to be an astonishing psychological thriller that keeps the audience guessing until the very end… and then some.
Our story begins as many thrillers do: a young, successful couple moves across the country due to initially untold reasons into a beautiful house with a phenomenal view. Our couple Simon (Jason Bateman of “Horrible Bosses,” “Hancock”) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall of “Transcendence,” “The Prestige”) display slight on-screen tension, implying that everything in the life they left behind may not be completely rosy, but a fresh start moving from Chicago and returning near Simon’s hometown in California may be just what the couple needs.
While on a shopping trip to fill their new home, our couple runs into someone from Simon’s past: enter Gordo (Edgerton). From the uneasy look on Gordo’s face when Simon touches his shoulder, it’s evident that the two aren’t really friends, but are they enemies? What unfolds following this chance meeting has a faint, but modern day echo of “Fatal Attraction.”
Edgerton does a fantastic job of never making Gordo’s intentions quite clear. Unsure of motive, and unsure of what he’s trying to accomplish is the key strength to his role and character. He manages to gives you chills, yet make you feel empathetic towards him at the same time.
Hall gives a convincing performance as well, playing the kind, caring and welcoming Robyn to Bateman’s charismatic, aggressive and success-at-any-cost character. Her body language on screen tells a much bigger story as the film unfolds.
This performance from Bateman, however, who often finds himself in comical roles, is edgy, serious, brilliant and the highlight of the film. The road Bateman travels throughout the film is winding and while slow, is an incredibly interesting journey to watch. His actions and motives throughout the film keep viewers on their toes from start to finish.
While not perfect in every way, “The Gift” remains one of the most engrossing films I’ve seen of 2015. It poses numerous moral questions and paints a real picture on how life events can truly shape a person, regardless of how many years have passed. While a bit of a slow burn, the film never felt like it was failing to progress or dragging its feet. The crescendo to the final moments eventually builds rapidly and the puzzle never truly comes to completion until after you’ve walked out of the theater to draw your own conclusion.