Review: Joel Edgerton's 'The Gift' is a Serious and Surprising Success
by Jeremy Kirk
August 7, 2015
There's a very frank, spoiler-filled discussion I'd like to have with Joel Edgerton about The Gift. His directorial debut, for which he also wrote the script, is intense, and loaded with surprises and ambiguity. More serious drama than suspenseful thriller, the film serves as a cautionary tale about… well, that's just one of those many surprises Edgerton has in store for his audience. Dripping with darkness, The Gift only delves into horror on foreboding tone alone, and the choices made by its characters are very real with real consequences. Edgerton's screenplays have always analyzed human choices we make and the results of our actions, and, with The Gift, he offers a daring, satisfying depiction of one's past coming back to haunt them.
Joel Edgerton serves triple duty on The Gift, also portraying the film's would-be antagonist, Gordo. Gordo, seemingly a friendly sort, casually comes into the lives of Simon and Robyn, a young couple played respectively by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall. The couple have just moved from Chicago to LA, where Simon grew up and previously attended school alongside Gordo.
When the film begins, the couple bump into Gordo at a store and make casual, catching-up conversation. Later on Gordo shows up at their new home with a gift, a bottle of wine. He keeps showing up, always unexpectedly and always with a strange determination about him. Robyn thinks he's sweet, but Simon, who has a history with Gordo, isn't so sure of his former schoolmate's intentions. Cue the paranoia.
The script moves at an extremely determined pace, and Edgerton never rushes the proceedings. The Gift needs this room to breath. The ambiguity with which Edgerton allows his film could almost be viewed as vagueness. There's so much he leaves unsaid, but this serves the atmosphere of the film well. It also has a strong hand in playing into those reveals with which The Gift ultimately leaves its audience. It's just enough to leave you with a view of what Edgerton's overall picture looks like, the message it's trying to express, but he leaves just enough puzzle pieces out of the box to keep you playing the film over and over in your head.
It isn't long before you're fully conscious of the path The Gift is taking. As with his previous work with storytelling; The Square, Felony, and The Rover, Edgerton writes his characters with such detail that the film begins delivering clues as to where it's headed from scene one, but that's not stopping the mystery he has laid out from working. On the contrary, the surprises and reveals Edgerton produces to his audience work so well because the clues are all prominently displayed. The misdirection in his screenplay is subtle, and, ultimately, the film delivers on what it promises to a solid, satisfying degree.
Adding to the film's genuine voice is an abundance of acting talent, particularly from its three leads. Gordo disappears for large portions of screen time, but Edgerton's writing married with his performance always keeps the character at the forefront of your mind. He's like the shark from Jaws, only, when Gordo pops up, he's brought a friendly, nicely-wrapped present with him instead of gnashing teeth. Edgerton keeps his character unassuming through much of the film, his friendly manner distracting you from the daggers he may or may not be jabbing into your back.
Bateman and Hall are equally impressive as the couple being "terrorized." There's an automatic assumption about a character Bateman is playing, mainly due to the similarities in the roles he takes on. With Simon, however, he brings a different kind of strength to his performance, his motives nearly as unpredictable as those of Gordo thanks to Edgerton's enigmatic way of character building. Hall, on the other hand, is satisfyingly subdued in a role that gives her much more to play than just the prerequisite victim. She's the anchor who holds the more fantastical elements of The Gift to a grounded level while still bringing the most range out of any of the performances.
They all do that to a degree, but every aspect works to bring Edgerton's film to a wholly gratifying reality. The Gift is as unassuming as Edgerton's character, but that isn't stopping it's end-results from sticking with the viewer for days after the fact. The film doesn't hold itself back, yet it feels incredibly restrained. Once again, Joel Edgerton proves himself as a quality storyteller with a gift for asking difficult questions that lead to even more difficult answers. He has a lot of questions left unanswered in The Gift, but that isn't stopping it from being a first-rate thriller with first-rate surprises.