Joel Edgerton is proving to be a man of many talents: The Gift is the first film he has directed, but he also wrote the screenplay and appears as one of the three leads, playing opposite Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall’s modern-day married yuppies. I suppose it’s not actually that uncommon for one person to fulfil three key roles like this, but if the script is good, the film is good and the acting is good – as is the case here – then it certainly deserves highlighting and praising, and Edgerton has performed all three tasks with admirable skill.
The premise is fairly simple, and similar to any number of ‘bunny boiler’ style thrillers: the couple have recently moved back to suburban Los Angeles, Bateman’s Simon having landed a new job, Hall’s Robyn having put her own career on hold in order to concentrate on having children. They bump into an old schoolfriend of Simon’s named Gordo (Edgerton), though it quickly transpires that Gordo’s nickname was ‘Weirdo’ when the pair were growing up. Gordo begins to leave gifts on the doorstep of Simon and Robyn’s large, modernist house, and shows up unexpectedly during the day, slowly raising Simon’s suspicions about his motives. The three meet for dinner a couple of times but something is amiss, strange occurrences begin to take place and gradually the couple try to extricate themselves from this new friendship.
All of which appears, at first anyway, to be taking us down a certain, well-trodden path. However The Gift stands out from the pack by messing with genre conventions, even though it never fully escapes them. There are plenty of reviews out there hinting at (or even revealing) the twists and turns of the plot, so it’s probably for the best if I don’t add to all of that, and I’ll simply say that Edgerton kept me intrigued in all three of his characters, successfully hiding their motives and managing to alter the way they should be perceived throughout the second and third acts. Eduard Grau’s cinematography makes the most of the mirrors and reflective surfaces of Robyn and Simon’s house, and Edgerton regularly separates his characters from one another by having them stand either side of panes of glass, highlighting the problematic nature of the couple’s relationship in particular. It makes for an interesting spin on the Fatal Attraction / Cape Fear model, and very occasionally The Gift even reminded me of Caché, even if it lacks the detatched iciness of Michael Haneke’s film. Sadly ten minutes before the end the writer/director opts for some standard Hollywood thriller tropes – the reveal, the twist, the breathless chase, and so on – but that certainly doesn’t ruin the film: it’s an assured debut and Edgerton’s writing continues to impress.
Directed by: Joel Edgerton.
Written by: Joel Edgerton.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton.
Cinematography: Eduard Grau.
Editing: Luke Doolan.
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans.
Running Time: 108 minutes.