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Like many of you out there, I became aware of Australian jack-of-all-trades Joel Edgerton via the solid MMA sports drama WARRIOR (WATCH IT HERE). The lad went on to be one of the best elements in the THE THING premake and owned it again in ZERO DARK THIRTY. And although Edgerton has written other feature length films (like the tight Australian opus THE ROVER starring Guy Pearce) and directed a handful of shorts (Monkeys, The List) this is the first time we North Americans get to see his talent shine through from the other side of the lens. So how did the man fare? Hey, I was impressed.
Unlike the trailers are leading you to believe, THE GIFT is not another THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE or UNLAWFUL ENTRY (Man I love that movie, remember this scene?) Although it did sport elements that go in hand in hand with the very popular (in the 90’s that is) stranger/psycho comes to disturb/destroy your life subgenre, THE GIFT went to to deconstruct those types of films by developing its characters and unraveling its chain of events not in the usual black and white fashion, but dipped in a bleak shade of grey. Which of course resulted in all kinds of left field turns. And that’s what made THE GIFT so compelling; in a way its “let sell it like a standard psycho movie” trailer (s) worked in its favor for me. I was expecting one thing and instead I got a way more cerebral, complex and elevated offering. As the end credits rolled, my jaw was on the ground (my pants too but that's another story) and my ONE brain cell was working over time, processing all that I had seen and how it "fit" with that visceral finale. For me, that’s a sign of a solid picture.
Now, the best way I can describe my sit down with THE GIFT is “peeling an onion”. I was served one reality in terms of situation and characters and as the clock ticked forward, layers after layers were peeled off and I gradually started to see a new picture. Now I’m want to avoid SPOILERS, hence I can’t delve into its flesh much further that this. Needless to say though, I didn't know where this badboy was going and by consequence it had me by the b-balls the whole way through. The whole wouldn't have worked as well with a lesser cast that's for sure! I cared about everybody here, even when their actions shined a negative spotlight on them. Jason Bateman was ideal as the confident and borderline sociopath Simon; a guy that will do what he has to do to get his way. That was a bold role for The Bates and he aced it! Rebecca Hall (whom I loved in THE AWAKENING) shined here once again as the good-hearted girl stuck in the middle and who just wants to do the right thing. The lass can communicate so much via a glance or a body movement – definately one of our better modern actresses. She deserves more respect IMO.
Finally Joel Edgerton made for a enigmatic figure as Gordo. His character had me on the fence for the bulk of the running time. Is he good? Is he bad? Or maybe’s he’s a bit of both i.e. human. Edgerton handled his part’s depth like the pro that he is and gave a showcase to remember. Add to all that loving a gripping audio/visual style by Edgerton (loved his use of silence and some of his shots were to die for in terms of their aesthetics), a couple of toe-nail biting suspenseful moments, a fascinating exploration of the query “How well do we TRULY know someone?” and a pinch of a social commentary when it comes to bullying and the long lasting effect it COULD HAVE on a person's life and you get a movie that was way more ambitious and challenging than its “Blumhouse Special” marketing led me to believe. This is a thriller for adults, teens who thought THE GALLOWS was the tits… STAY AWAY.
Any drawbacks? Some ,but nothing too critical. I did feel some lagging as to the progression of the narrative and looking back, I wish there were even more bumps in the storyline to slap me around stupid (specially during the second act). Moreover, the flick gunned out a handful of CHEAP boo scares (that worked on me, I must admit) that didn’t fit with the type of ride this was. It almost felt like they shot them easy frights for the trailer and wound up slapping them into the feature just to spruce things up a tad. At the end of the day though; THE GIFT wound up being quite the surprise. A picture made for grown ups, one that took familiar genre tropes, turned them on their heads and explored them in depth in a mature way! Good stuff! Thanks for that! I needed it!