Review: The Gift
REVIEW: Film critics have to sign embargoes all the time. Sometimes it comes down to when/where the movies being released, but often, when slapped with one thats especially restrictive, it has something to do with the quality of the film. An embargo until opening day (or in this case the day before) is usually second only to no press screening at all as far as bad movies go. What makes THE GIFTs embargo puzzling is that this is far from a bad movie. In fact, THE GIFT is a minor gem and the kind of late-summer surprise we always hope for but rarely get.
Its possible that the company behind this Blumhouse is hoping to sell this as another of their genre entries and are afraid critics will throw cold water on that tactic. Indeed, THE GIFT is not a horror movie. Heck, its only marginally a thriller. Its actually better than that as its a complicated drama with high emotional stakes and a payoff thats bound to be controversial. Its the kind of movie you spend hours talking about with your friends afterwards and certainly one that will spur strong reactions from both its detractors and fans.
While known here as an actor, writer-director Joel Edgerton, whos making his directorial debut, has a long history as a writer/producer in his native Australia. His company, Blue Tongue Films is largely responsible for the new wave of Australian films, and he has writing credits on some of the best recent films from that region, including THE SQUARE, FELONY and THE ROVER. THE GIFT is far more like those films than the quickie thriller its being sold as right down to the foreboding poster.
Edgerton has given himself a solid role in THE GIFT, although hes far from the scary villain you might expect. Rather, his meek if creepy Gordo is often simply the instigator of a series of events that challenges the marriage between Jason Bateman and Rebecca Halls characters, with things being revealed about the former through his arrival that shocks Halls trusting wife. THE GIFTs main theme is less the sins of the past but rather how well do we know the person we share our lives with.
While Edgerton makes for a memorably off-putting character (a far cry from his usual macho roles) and Hall is more-than-adequate as the trusting wife, its Jason Bateman who really gets an acting workout here. While usually typecast in comedy, THE GIFT is more in-line with his scene-stealing cameo in STATE OF PLAY, where his smarm and charm is used to suggest a guy wholl do whatever he has to do to get ahead and dominate others, whatever the consequences. This is the kind of role Michael Douglas would have aced in the eighties or nineties, and Batemans rarely been as effective as he is here, showing a real flair for drama and menace which I wouldnt have expected from him.
Like many other films of its type, your overall enjoyment of THE GIFT probably depends on you not knowing too much before walking in. I wont go into spoiler territory except to say that other than a few cheap scares that were likely thrown in so they could be cut into trailers, THE GIFT is a really restrained and extremely well-crafted for a directorial debut. Working for so many A-list directors has clearly rubbed off on Edgerton, but he doesnt ape their styles. He goes for a subtle, straightforward tone that makes this feel unpredictable and realistic, and as such THE GIFT is surprisingly unsettling once it rolls around to its wholly unexpected climax.
Its really rare that we get a wide-release for this kind of adult drama, and hopefully people who turn up expecting a hard-core thriller will have the taste to appreciate THE GIFT for what it is rather than what it isnt. Its a really solid, unsettling character-based drama and one that will hopefully garner an appreciative audience. This is one summer sleeper I highly recommend.
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