Joel Edgerton has been an actor on the rise for some time. With his breakthrough role in David Michod’s debut feature, Animal Kingdom, he showed a charisma that was incredibly infectious and showed that charisma through his other roles in Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, and various other entertaining, and some not so entertaining films. While he is credited with co-authoring the story for one of my favourite films of last year, The Rover, The Gift is his first major foray into writing and directing a full length feature film, but damn if he doesn’t succeed in creating one of the best thrillers this year.
The Gift starring Joel Edgerton, Rebecca Hall, and an against type Jason Bateman, truly revels in the idea of relationships and what exists within them. What I noticed immediately is how indebted it seemed to be in the psychological thrillers of the 90’s during the first half of the film. Hall, as our heroine of the story, leers around corners of her glass house and we lurch back in our seats in fear of what comes next. And what comes next seems to be in the form of Joel Edgerton in a wonderfully disturbed performance as Gordo.
With Edgerton’s performance, Gordo exists as an incredibly meek and fragile individual with deeper secrets that I won’t reveal in this review. But that’s not to discount the other performances. Jason Bateman is a revelation here as the self-absorbed Simon. Asshole, degenerate; you could name his character all of these things, but Bateman portrays that perfectly. I know it seems weird to call Bateman, a veteran actor of three decades, a veteran, but his performance is unlike any other he’s ever done and I’d say my favourite role of his that I’ve seen, and that includes Arrested Development. While Rebecca Hall is solid as the kind housewife and audience surrogate, unfortunately that’s all her character is.
And that is truly my only major problem with the film. While The Gift is mainly a three handed between the aforementioned actors, it truly feels like two of them get the meatiest roles. Rebecca Hall is still tremendous in her role, but in the end, she is still delegated to being the terrified housewife. Yet, it still works for the movie and its narrative. I said I wouldn’t spoil the movie, but while the first half of the film seems the center around the standard horror/thriller tropes of the 90’s, The Gift wanders into darker territory and what comes along with human nature. And that’s what makes it into what it is. Edgerton decided to transcend the idea of just making a genre film, in turn, creating something that leans more toward the humanist feel of Michael Haneke’s films (which has been stated as an influence for Edgerton).
The Gift carries around a lot of baggage in terms of the tropes that it carries and the brilliant (or not so brilliant, depending on your interpretation of misdirection), but it carries a beautifully dark and disturbing film about the dangers of bullying and revenge. Edgerton from this point onward is one to watch, not just in the field of acting, but in the field of directing as well. With an incredible handle on the storytelling and beautifully shot in its own right, The Gift is more than what meets the eye and a gift I would gladly exist.