The Gift is a twisted little thriller that never tries to be more than it is and had me guessing until I was supposed to put it all together.
Joel Edgerton makes his feature directorial debut, from a script he wrote, in which he also stars in, and the results are good all across the board. Focusing on a couple, Simon & Robyn, who have just moved to California looking for a “fresh start”, they almost immediately run into an old school mate of Simon’s, Gordo, who sort of awkwardly forces his way into their life. Gordo’s social oddities and ever presence are a bit weird, but a lonely and recovering Robyn forms somewhat of a friendship with him as he drops by the house with a series of gifts. Simon quickly grows weary of Gordo’s presence, which sets off a series of events that sends Robyn into detective mode about her husband and Gordo’s past.
A review for a movie like The Gift can’t really get into too many plot details, that would take away the surprise, but I think there is a lot to say about the technical side of things here. Edgerton has worked with some big time directors, and he composes a sleek and intimate looking picture here in his feature debut. Most of the film is contained to one, gorgeous, house in the hills of Los Angeles, and Edgerton takes full advantage of the windows surrounding the exterior of the house. He also makes the film feel more and more claustrophobic when it needs to, as Robyn’s world slowly closes in around her. The script is also very solid from nearly start to finish. Edgerton slowly boils the pot, but while he takes his time the film is never dull. Even when he zigs where I would have rode the zag right at the end, I can’t really blame him as the final knife is pretty sharp. That said, it projects a bit too much a couple of its moves, but that might also be because I caught a glimpse of the trailer it played so much, it might have, unfortunately, set my expectations a bit. Don’t watch trailers.
With only three characters to focus on, everyone is fully fleshed out as the script and actors involved give their characters a ton of layers. Since I’m heaping tons of praise on Edgerton, I might as well start with him on the performance side of things. He plays Gordo, and has the smallest role of the core three, but he brings a lot to the character, all of it hiding just behind the surface. You really can’t ever get a read on him, and that is perfect for Robyn’s arc as she doesn’t know what to think. There is an apology scene late in the film that really knocked my socks off from Edgerton; he’s so subtle, but so good. Rebecca Hall is excellent as always as Robyn, and while I wish she had a bit more to do she is great as the audience surrogate. She has to let everyone play off her as we go along with her trying to figure everything out, but she brings a fragility and depth to Robyn that really impresses. Jason Bateman is also perfectly cast as the likeable asshole, as he navigates his arc about as well as you can without ever resorting to over the top theatrics. A couple more flashes of humor from him could have helped the movie’s levity a bit, but I can’t blame Edgerton for riding out the tone he is absolutely nailing in the film. Another curious, but welcome, bit of casting, Edgerton rounded out most of the supporting roles with a solid cast of comedians, something more directors should do more often. Also, hell of a dog actor in this movie. Those eyes!
The Gift is a sharp thriller that is working on pretty much every level from start to finish. The small scope of the film is used effectively and Edgerton proves himself a formidable presence both behind and in front of the camera. Plus, I’ll never complain about more Rebecca Hall in my life, but the film’s final reveal might make you wish she wasn’t thrown in Robyn’s shoes.