The Gift is a Hitchcockian thriller of the classiest kind. It’s about an upper middle-class married couple – Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) – who are terrorised by a ex-classmate of Simon’s named Gordo (Joel Edgerton) looking to settle an old score after their move from Chicago back to the former’s Los Angeles’ East Side neighbourhood. And yet, Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay, is not just content for his psychological thriller to be just another B-grade exercise; instead, there are more than a few nasty surprises in store for an audience jaded by such run-of-the-mill genre fare, and it is Edgerton’s emphasis on character rather than empty shlock that ultimately pays off in a slow-burn but nevertheless consistently gripping mystery.
The performances here are unanimously strong, particularly from Bateman, who gives one of his only very serious roles to date here. Bateman even delivers a powerful monologue before his co-star, Hall, who also does some good work as a troubled woman simply wanting peace of mind, concerning the “winners and losers” of America and how people are only held back by personal insecurities and events of the past because they choose to be. His delivery and conviction here is very strong, as he deadlocks his eyes into Hall and digs into her, himself, and everything that occurred in the past in one great scene.
However, what is the most rewarding and surprising is the acting of Joel Edgerton which blew me away. Rarely do I see such transformation/up grade of acting skills/portrayal to the better, at least to this extent. Edgerton is superb. I have always liked him, but for a long while he has been stuck portraying low key carachters with not so much to say. Here he manages to convey vulnerability, determination, psychotic behavior and ingenuity with total believability and subtleness.
Yet Edgerton’s craft here is something to really marvel at. Serving as the writer, director, and co-producer, “The Gift” is essentially his playground and, in turn, he creates a thrilling funhouse of Hitchcockian principles and truly absorbing fear. Drenched in dingy, saturated cinematography, casting a moody light on nearly every scene, “The Gift”‘s atmosphere (thanks to cinematographer Eduard Grau) is a richly detailed one. The eeriness is very even and understated, and the fright aspect sneaks up on you like the potentially deeper meaning of a kind neighbor’s gesture. This is a beautiful film in terms of its look and feel, constantly feeling like its toying with your emotions.
At the end of the day, however, Edgerton is the real star here. Proving himself a competent do-all man and not just a gimmicky actor-turned-director, he molds “The Gift” to his liking and asserts himself not only as a strong lover of thrillers and Hitchcockian principles but an actor who can also say, “sit back and watch” when he goes to do something and actually do it correctly.
The Gift gets an 8.6/10.