“The Gift” Movie Review

     Making his feature writing and directing debut, actor Joel Edgerton does triple duty with his outstanding new thriller “The Gift”.  Also starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, “The Gift” is one of those films that clearly takes enjoyment toying with the audience as it makes you believe the story is heading in a certain predictable direction, but then seamlessly flips the script and goes down a completely different road.  More a Hitchcock style suspense thriller than an 80s stalking picture like “Fatal Attraction” or “Unlawful Entry”, the film unwraps in much the same way some of Brian DePalma’s best work did. And Edgerton is happy to constantly shift the momentum of the three main characters as each seems set on an emotional collision course we know is not likely to end well.  Among some of the superlatives in the film is Edgerton’s successful transformation of Bateman from his typical comedic persona to one that features an almost unlikeable overconfidence crossed with a condescending tone.  It’s obviously a role Bateman was always capable of, but just needed the right material and the right filmmaker to bring it out of him.  For each of the main players, “The Gift” easily represents the best performances of their respective careers thus far.

     Simon (Bateman) is used to getting what he wants and seems to be the type of person who has no problem stepping on those he sees as being weaker in order to do so.  As it is pointed out early in the film, Simon was once class president in high school and created posters with the slogan “Simon Says” and it becomes clear, even if he won’t admit it, that the phrase has remained his mantra as he has crossed over into adult life.  He and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), have just moved into their dream home in California after Simon has just landed his dream job with a large sales firm.  The home is exactly the right type of setting for the kind of film you will think this is during the first act.  There are virtually no window coverings to conceal those inside, allowing visitors to walk right up to the residence and know immediately via eye contact that someone is home.  During the early scenes, Edgerton explores the rooms and hallways with his camera in much the same way Ridley Scott explored the endless maze that was the Nostromo in 1979’s “Alien”.  He wants to establish that familiar edge of your seat tone that all successful horror films have in order to make the scares more effective later.  Only this isn’t that kind of film.

     Simon and Robyn have a chance meeting at a hardware store with Gordo (Edgerton), a high school acquaintance of Simon’s of whom he barely claims to remember when speaking to his wife about it later.  The conversation is awkward.  Maybe even a little uncomfortable.  But somehow Gordo takes the encounter as being an invitation to rekindle a friendship that may not have even existed in high school and begins showing up at Simon and Robyn’s residence while Simon is at work and Robyn is alone.  The initial visit gives Gordo the opportunity to hook up their television and leads to Robyn inviting him to stay for dinner. Why she does this is beyond me and is probably the last thing Simon would expect upon returning home from work.  Of course the three of them breaking bread together reveals that Gordo is just as strange as we think he is.  He’s not quite as slow as Billy Bob Thornton’s character in “Sling Blade”, but there are times where his conversational skills seem to be slow and unsure.  A likely clue that he lacks the kind of confidence necessary to get through life.

     As the story progresses, a number of red flags begin to reveal themselves about Gordo.  He thanks Simon and Robyn by populating the small pond near their home’s entry way with fish, and wants to continue to pursue their friendship by inviting them to his home for a dinner party, allegedly with other couples as well.  When that situation isn’t as expected, Simon decides to pull the plug on the relationship all together, especially since he fears Gordo has taken a significant liking to Robyn.  Of course Robyn seems to feel sorry for Gordo and doesn’t want Simon to be harsh when he forces Gordo out of their lives, and yet we see it really isn’t in Simon’s nature to let him off easily.

     This is where Edgerton starts to play with us a little bit.  When the fish are found dead in the pond and the family dog comes up missing, how can we not then conjure up images of the rabbit boiling character played so effectively by Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”.  Edgerton certainly knows this and that’s how he baits us and then changes the complexion of the story completely.  It seems something terrible happened between Simon and Gordo during high school that may have been responsible for ruining Gordo’s life and possibly propelling Simon to the success he currently enjoys.  Robyn has picked up on this, but struggles to find the right words that will get Simon to open up.  Each time she tries, he claims he hardly knew Gordo and that nothing happened between them.  When things begin to fall apart for both Simon and Robyn, Gordo resurfaces and his intentions reveal there was a plan on his end all along.  I won’t reveal anything more, but know that the story contains some of the most clever and well thought out plot twists I have seen in any film in quite sometime.  What Edgerton has done here may very well be the surprise hit of the summer as the film is sure to have audiences chatting about its storyline for months to come and may one day be mentioned along side some of the better thrillers of the past decade. GRADE: B+