“Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
-John Proctor (The Crucible)
Joel Edgerton is a terrific actor. You might not recognize the name, but you are sure to recognize the face as soon as you see it. Edgerton has been around Hollywood for a while now and is probably best known for his role opposite Tom Hardy in Warrior. The Gift was an intriguing idea for me. Edgerton had written a movie called The Rover that I enjoyed, but he had never directed a movie. It’s a big jump for an actor to write, direct, and star in a film when they’ve never really done two of the three. Much to my surprise, The Gift is a terrific psychological thriller.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple who have decided to start over in California close to where Simon grew up. A chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school days brings about an unwanted friendship with Gordo (Joel Edgerton). Gordo begins showing up at their home uninvited and giving them unprompted gifts. Robyn views Gordo as harmless, but there seems to be an underlying tension between Simon and Gordo. As Robyn presses for the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to question how well she knows her husband.
Bateman is perfectly cast as Simon. Simon seems written specifically for Bateman. The character is flawed and believable. Bateman has always seemed charming and sweet, but also kind of seemed to be a jerk. Simon is no different. We can certainly see why Robyn fell for Simon, but at the same time you never fully trust him, and neither does she. Rebecca Hall does the majority of the heavy lifting here as Robyn. Even though the film is essentially about Gordo and Simon’s relationship, the story is told through Robyn’s experience of finding the truth. Rebecca Hall is absolutely fabulous and will not get the due she deserves because Bateman and Edgerton are so great. But without her performance, this film wouldn’t be as centered as it is.
Joel Edgerton pulling triple duty seems like a recipe for disaster, but he somehow pulls it off. First, let’s address his acting. Edgerton is an underrated actor who has some very huge opportunities coming this year. He co-stars with Johnny Depp in the upcoming Black Mass and is set to star in two Jeff Nichols films. But let’s focus on The Gift. Edgerton pulls off his best role yet. Gordo is so mundanely weird that at times you feel for him, but you also sympathize with Simon and Robyn for the awkward predicament they are in. Gordo can at times be menacing and at other times seem helpless. The more the plot unfolds the more Edgerton plays the character’s pathetic side before the tension boils over in the end. Edgerton’s writing and directing are surprisingly good here. The film is shot with a deft hand, and he handles the tension like a student of Hitchcock. The writing is probably the weakest part of the film. There are plot contrivances and a few holes that will leave you annoyed. There are some confusing choices made by Gordo towards the end of the film that could cause some problems for film goers. Overall though, Edgerton was able to write a coherent and interesting story.
Joel Edgerton has pulled off something special. The Gift is relentless in its pursuit for tension, but always keeps the plot moving. Edgerton’s performance behind the camera is probably one of the biggest surprises of the year. I hope he continues to pursue this side of his career. The acting is phenomenal. Bateman and Hall share beautiful scenes of love and deception. Bateman knows how to be a bully when he needs to be, and by the time the film ends Hall’s character is, believably, the smartest person on screen. As the summer winds down and good films become harder to find, seek out The Gift and unwrap it.