The Gift: A Review Of A Psycholgical Thriller
  Vedesh Nath
COLUMNS-REVIEWS
February 2016

Director: Joel Edgerton

Main Cast: Jason Bateman (Simon), Rebecca Hall (Robyn), Joel Edgerton (Gordo)

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Drama

Running Time: 128 minutes

Language Release: English

Rating: R – contains Adult Language, Mature Subject Matter, Violence and Brief Nudity

Bullies. We’ve all had to deal with them at one point or another. Be it ongoing - like at school, at our workplace and even at home; or something seemingly trivial - like at a retail store (fighting with a fellow consumer for the last TV set during Pricesmart‘s Black Friday Sale) and even on the highways (those awful road hogs!) - bullying is a plague trying to be contained globally. The issue of bullying lies at the heart of The Gift and is dealt with in this carefully scripted, visually-engaging film.

Joel Edgerton (acclaimed actor known for his principal roles in Warrior and the upcoming Jane Got a Gun) serves as writer and director for this film, and does a fine job. The film begins bearing the aura of a classic Hitchcock film then settles nicely into a relevant drama- a rare combination shown by modern-day Hollywood. This mixing of genres, however, is often displayed in cinema from different parts of the world. Take for instance 2014’s Australian-Canadian horror The Babadook: a film that in the beginning convinces us that it is a poignant drama about a single mother struggling to deal with the sudden death of her husband while fighting for the survival of her son and herself on a menial salary, but then escalates to a creepy monster-under-the-bed horror that makes us all scared of the Babadook, thanks to its verisimilar intro.

The Gift uses this style in the opposite, moving from psychological-thriller to forlorn drama. The film opens with its central characters Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) observing an empty living room, symbolic of the couple’s state. They are starting empty, anew – from a clean slate, leaving all their troubles behind. The house resembles the couples’ seemingly simple, classy facades, making it a perfect purchase for them. They move in and soon start filling the house with items that remind them of their former life in the city, all of which is not fond. Robyn had a miscarriage and the couple is trying again for a baby, all while balancing successful careers and forging relationships with their new neighbors. The apparent tranquility of this pair is soon interrupted with a blast from the past. While shopping at a department store, a stranger is seen staring at Simon from a distance. Turns out to be Bateman’s high school friend Gordon (Joel Edgerton) – nicked Gordo.

 

Gordo enters the couples’ lives bearing gifts and surprise visits. Though it all seems normal for Robyn, Simon knows Gordo has something else up his sleeves. But what? After many visits to their home, Gordo invites the couple over to his place. As he pours them wine on their visit, he gets a phone call and rushes out, leaving a confused Simon and Robyn alone in his home. But it’s all intentional – for Gordo that is. And Simon knows this. When Gordo returns, a cautious Simon asks his wife to leave so he can speak to Gordo alone. He threatens him that if he ever comes near him or his wife again, he’ll ruin his life – subtly and cleverly giving away Simon’s true self. A confused Robyn overhears the conversation and wonders what triggered this response from her husband.

 

The film then escalates to its psychotic catharsis when the couples’ fishes (gifted from Gordo) end up dead in the pond, their dog disappears and Robyn constantly feels as though she’s being watched in her home, leaving no one to blame but Gordo.

Despite this, Robyn becomes caught between her sympathy for Gordo and her trust for Simon. Afraid to confront her husband, she begins investigating on her own only to find out Gordo was molested as a teen and is presumably gay. He was rescued from his molester from the backseat of a car by Simon and his hero friends. With the notion of Gordo being gay, this leads to troubles in his life and a beating from his father that almost leaves him dead. So then this has to be the reason for Gordo’s unusual behavior? Not quite.

 

Months pass and the sympathy for Gordo lingers in a now pregnant Robyn.  She digs deeper into the case and it is soon revealed to her by Simon’s best friend from high school that it was all a lie fabricated by Simon out of spite and self-gratification. Gordo was never molested and he isn’t gay. With this shocking revelation, Robyn is reminded of her own humiliation through high school and she confronts Simon and begs of him to find Gordo and ask for forgiveness, but that’s not an option for a proud Simon. Their marriage becomes shaky. A once bullied Robyn realizes she married a bully.

 

In the end, Gordo gets his revenge - Simon loses his job and Robyn separates from him after giving birth to their child. Gordo’s revenge is sweet making us all cheer in our seats.

Bateman shines in the lead role, giving us his best performance to date as the protagonist turned antagonist. He gives us a glimpse of a vulnerability never seen before from him, making him the star of the show. Hall convinces as her character: gracefully moving, like a robin, from a confident and successful designer, then shifting to a desperate mother grieving to bear a child. Though at times her lines don’t resonate, her eyes give away her soul, making it easy for us to move with her every beat. Unlike Bateman and Hall, Edgerton, one of my favourite actors, doesn’t give us his best performance. Serving as a fine director and writer for this, his first feature film, causes his acting to suffer. He gives us glimpses into the effects of being bullied, but it never draws compassion from us. His performance seems forceful rather than relaxed and natural. You never feel his pain - until one scene where Bateman beats him up, leaving him bruised in an empty parking lot. Though his work is still memorable, he never loses himself head on in Gordo.

 

Though some of the scenes leading to the film’s denouement lingered a little too long, The Gift is an important film brilliantly told. It is something we should all see. It makes us think, which is what cinema is supposed to do. If we avenged those that once bullied us or inflicted pain on us, would it bring us justice? Though Gordo’s revenge is sweet and Simon gets what he deserves in the end, we still feel sorry for him. Should we live and let live, or should we avenge? A necessary introspection for all Trinbagonians, given our current state of vengeance.

 

Overall Rating: 8/10

 

By: Vedesh Nath | COLUMNS-REVIEWS | February 2016


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