The Gift (2015)

The Gift (2015)
  • Time: 108 min
  • Genre: Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Joel Edgerton
  • Cast: Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, Rebecca Hall


Simon and Robyn are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. Simon doesn’t recognize Gordo at first, but after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered after more than 20 years. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to question: how well do we really know the people closest to us, and are past bygones ever really bygones?


  • Jason Bateman’s latest is 2015’s The Gift. In truth, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen him in before. He’s volcanic and wouldn’t you know it, this marks his best performance to date. Now granted, “Gift” sure ain’t no comedy (Jaybird’s normal shtick over the last thirty years). It’s psychological warfare, a bender of a movie that puts your fragile mind through the ringer. No one (including any audience member) is safe, there’s no true protagonist, and despite a ho hum ending (which won’t compel you but make you feel a little sick to your stomach), I would still call it one of the best things to come out this year. For everyone who wants to escape the summer movie standard, just picture this: Two grim, torn up main characters go at it (mano a mano) while a pushover pregnant lady stands as an innocent pawn. Intrigued by my play on words? I sure as heck hope so.

    Misled by its trailer (this is not a thriller or a horror exercise but a hard-edged drama), using tons of gifts as props (naturally), and presenting its conflicted narrative right from the get-go, The Gift chronicles one Simon (Jason Bateman). After getting a job promotion as a budding salesman, he moves from Chicago with his Chicago-bred wife (Robyn played by Rebecca Hall), to Southern California where he grew up. He buys a new house (containing lots of glass and mirrors which only add to the visual palate of the director’s vision), gets settled in, and has hopes of starting a family despite said wife garnering a previous miscarriage.

    In terms of his personality, Simon is a heavy drinker and relatively smarmy (I feel his character may have a little regret bottled up inside). His better half is a former pill popper and overly nice. As they are buying products to spruce up their new abode, a man from Simon’s past comes around and talks both of them up (Gordon played by Joel Edgerton). You see, Simon and “Gordo” went to high school together over twenty years ago with something fishy going down between them (in a car). I won’t give away anything more only to tell you that Gordon continues to make his presence known and the spousal simpletons start to feel a tad uncomfortable. As a moviegoer, you always sense that something troublesome is coming around the corner. That’s the rub and it deems “Gift’s” opening hour highly effective. Essentially, you have a vehicle here that is a revenge vignette (my take is that Gordon wanted to secretly remind Simon that he might have molested “Gordo the weirdo” a long time ago) and something that exposes the lead role for what he really is (Bateman’s Simon was a bully back then and he’s still a bully today). In one scene. Gordon proclaims, “you may be done with the past but the past ain’t done with you.” No kidding.

    Now I read a review where a critic talked about The Gift coming out of a time capsule circa 1992. Wow, that’s dead-on. Consenting Adults, Unlawful Entry, and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (all released in 92′) literally gave me the same vibe. But hey, “Gift” still manages to stand on it own. It’s out of the box, fornicating, slow-burning material. It may riff off the aforementioned flicks but said riff is a tribute, a hightail sonnet bent on relishing the concept of taking in a person who’s not all there mentally, and then letting him/her turn lives upside down. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

    “Gift” is directed by newcomer Joel Edgerton (he mostly acts and has done just two shorts). It’s not necessarily scary or horrifying, just eerie. It’s also mildly violent yet not bloodcurdling. He shoots the proceedings as if he’s channeling some Adrian Lyne stint from the late 80’s or early 90’s. There’s tension throughout but he creates it when it’s not really there. Very impressive. In retrospect, you have a solemn tale set in suburban Los Angeles, a smoke and mirrors look that spells dread, and even a homage to 1980’s The Shining (room 237, hint hint). Oh and for once, the film score is not filler. It sounds like what great film scores used to project back in the day. For just under two hours, I sat transfixed, salivating for an ending that I knew wouldn’t be that great. But let’s face it, the journey with The Gift is the high point. Fingernails will be chewed off, your posture will suffice, and bathroom breaks will surely have to wait.

    All in all, I figured you’d expect me to use a metaphor with the title given. Well, here it goes: The Gift as a movie, has a nice bow, a beautiful grade of wrapping paper, and if you shake it, something inside feels like a dream present. You open the present, thank everyone who gave it to you, but feel a tad dissatisfied. No worries, it’s still virtually unreturnable. The result: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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  • The Gift is a very effective genre thriller. Ah, but which genre? In dramatizing the amoral bullying in corporate culture it’s a white-collar crime melodrama. Its explicit theme of the terrible costs of bullying makes it a social commentary. In interweaving the guilt and innocence of an apparently virtuous and an apparent evil, it ventures into Hitchcock territory — as emphasized by one eruption of shrill strings (a la Psycho).
    But the film draws most effectively upon the Woman’s Film tradition — Rebecca, Gaslight, etc. — as a strong, fragile woman has her sanity thrown into doubt by two strong, scheming men. “I’m not crazy,” she assures herself as she watches her faith in her husband, her marriage and his career crumble together.
    Robyn (Rebecca Hall) was torn away from her Chicago home, career and independence to serve husband Simon’s (Jason Bateman) ambitions in a California suburb. Left vulnerable by a miscarriage, she is further unsettled by the mysterious Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed). He besieges the young couple with gifts, then undermines her confidence with suggestions of her husband’s past misdeeds.
    Bateman plays against his persona when his amiable character is exposed to be a liar and a bully, who has no qualms about ruining someone else’s life to get ahead. We learn he ruined Gordo’s as a kid, but now as an adult destroys a rival with unfounded slander.
    Simon personifies male authority. As Gordo recalls, Simon used his name to bend others to his will, especially when he ran for students union president (always an omen of adult corruption). What Simon says, everyone did. We watch Simon tyrannize Robyn despite his obvious love for her.
    His glide through life ends here when Gordo wreaks a magnificent, ironic revenge. When Gordo was a child Simon led his schoolyard bullying and beating. He and a pal falsely accused young Gordo of being homosexually molested, which led to his near murder by his father and his derailment from any normal life. As if in atonement Simon’s partner in crime became a chiropractor, as if to bring compensatory relief to the afflicted. Simon pursues a career in “security systems,” ironically apt for a man who builds his own security on causing the insecurity of others.
    In his revenge Gordo reverses that first crime. He poisons Simon’s mind with the idea that Gordo raped and inseminated an unconscious Robyn. Gordon sends Simon a tape of the scene and of the couple’s domestic conversations. This invasion humiliates the security systems specialist. Gordon undermines Simon entirely. Simon will always see Gordo’s eyes in his new son. Having seen how badly Simon beat Gordo Robyn will not return to him or their house. In the last shot Gordo walks away blurred by hospital glass, tossing aside the arm brace he had worn to dramatize Simon’s assault. The broken man has broken his nemesis.
    Robyn is trapped between the two men. As Gordo visits her when Simon is at work Simon suspects Gordo wants to take her from him. That’s the insecurity of the bully. Perhaps from that anxiety Gordo gets the idea how to get back at his boyhood tormentor. He makes the bully’s dread a reality. At the end nothing Simon says means anything. He loses not just his promotion but his job, his marriage — and any confidence his son is his and not Gordo’s.

  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is recommended.

    In brief: A neatly packaged psychological thriller.

    GRADE: B

    Before we review our feature presentations, let’s take a moment to discuss the sorry state of today’s movie trailers. The simple job of the film preview is to entice the moviegoer into returning, with cash in hand, to see the finished product by showing short snippets of the future movie. But nowadays, these coming attractions seem to come in two varieties, leaving nothing to one’s imagination. They do a disservice to their commodity, either giving away too much plot, as in Southpaw, Max, Ricky and the Flash, or Woman in Gold or totally misleading the audience into thinking it is seeing another genre with its slight-of-hand like Mr. Holmes and our main event today, The Gift, which comes off as a possibly violent psycho-slasher thriller when the opposite is true.  Instead, The Gift is a nifty little mystery that keeps one guessing throughout the movie’s twists and turns and even holds up after viewing. It doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in one neat little package (pardon the pun), but it makes logical sense when discussing the time frame and circumstances with your movie-going friends after-wards. It is a rarity these days to enjoy an well thought-out adult suspense drama since so many filmmakers tend to go for shock value and violence to cover-up the flaws in their storytelling. The Gift is that atypical movie that respects its own genre and doesn’t go that easy route and one needs to admire such a film.

    The film starts off rather slowly as we met Robyn (Rebecca Hall) and Simon (Jason Bateman), a well-to-do couple recently moved to Los Angeles. This used to be Simon’s hometown and it is here that he once again bumps into a high school acquaintance named Gordo (Joel Edgerton). Both share a deep dark secret from the past as they renew their strained relationship, which instills some concern from his curious wife, especially when Gordo the Weirdo (his high school nickname) bestows on them several gifts as his personal thank yous. His behavior gives off a mixed message: Is he out for revenge and stalking this couple or just a lonely social misfit looking for friendship?

    The Gift is a taut psychological thriller that engages the moviegoer and expects its audience to have a modicum of intelligence in following the clues. Sometimes it does overstate the obvious and goes for cheap scare tactics with startling sound effects or an inane dream sequence to cause some screams along the way. But, on a whole, it respects its Hitchcock tradition as a solid mystery should.

    Mr. Edgerton did triple duty on this film. It is his feature debut as a writer / director and he co-stars in his project. Glad to report, his talent succeeds in all of these areas. His script is slightly convoluted but efficiently written and his characters are well drawn. His direction is concise and focused and he allows suspense to build through the character’s actions. His acting shows Gordo’s vulnerability, sadness, and anger ever so subtly. He also wisely chose to fill his other characters with Ms, Hall and Mr. Bateman playing opposite him. Ms. Hall pulls you into her character’s dilemma from the onset as she begins to confront the lies and cover- ups. The actress is excellent in her changing moods. But it is Jason Bateman who impresses with his acting range, taking his good guy persona and adding some rough edges to his character as he plays this game of intrigue. It is a fully accomplished portrait of a man trying to control his present life but unable to do so because of past transgressions.

    The Gift delivers the goods with all the trimmings. Even if some omissions in the plot are never fully explained, the film remains a tense and rewarding mystery thriller.

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  • It’s that time of year and this is one great example of a movie that should get nominated for a slew of awards. It twists and turns unexpectantly and just when you think you know the direction its going it twists again. It also breaks one of my rules and does it wonderfully.
    The writer/director of this film is also one of the leads, Joel Edgerton. Each of these jobs is done clearly and well as if someone else were doing the other two. Although I would have liked to see some tighter editing in the beginning but it wasn’t terrible and when things got moving the pace was perfect. It was some of the best writing I’ve seen all year. It is very much in the Hitchcock mold without the jump scares of today’s scary movies. Your emotions are drawn out of you by the characters and situations, not by some artificial visual effect. When the movie ends you’re not quite certain if it’s over or not. It is unresolved and it makes it that much better.
    Jason Bateman plays Simon, a successful and accomplished man with a beautiful wife. As the story goes on we find out more and the traditional type of character Bateman plays never makes an appearance. Not one bit of Bateman’s comic delivery is to be seen and he is just as good if not better with the dramatic situations and characters. He really is one of our best actors. Rebecca Hall plays Simon’s wife, Robyn. She has so many transitions because of the advice she gets that the audience is never quite sure where she going until she gets there. She also handles the bulk of the scary stuff as her character moves from confusion to certainty and back. Finally, there’s Edgerton playing Gordo. I can’t explain what this character does but it’s what makes the whole movie worth watching. These three are the backbone of the movie and they are all believable and absorbing. I got so caught up in the movie the ending sort of brought me up short. These characters are done so well that they live on beyond the end
    I give this movie 4 and ½ koi out of 4 because it’s better than just the top. I realize this is a shorter than usual review but how many time can I say this film was great.

  • The premise may be familiar, but actor Joel Edgerton’s intelligent screenplay and confident direction elevate the psychological thriller, The Gift.

    Wasting little time with exposition, the film begins with Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) moving into their spacious new home in the hills of L.A.’s East Side. With floor-to-ceiling windows, glass walls and an open floor plan, it seems a transparent, light-flooded home for the happy couple eager to start the next chapter of their lives. While shopping at a home furnishings store, they run into an old school classmate of Simon’s. The classmate’s name is Gordo (Edgerton) and his appearance unsettles Simon, who initially denies remembering him but ends their encounter with an exchange of phone numbers and a vague promise to catch up.

    As Simon starts his climb up the corporate ladder at his new job, Robyn is left alone in their home, keeping herself occupied with the occasional freelance project, daily runs, and getting to know their neighbours. We soon learn that Robyn is recovering from a recent miscarriage and dealing with depression. Meanwhile, Gordo has suddenly become a constant presence, leaving various gifts at their door and dropping by unannounced. Simon finds it all too disturbing and stalkerish, but Robyn is more forgiving and chalks up Gordo’s behaviour as mere social awkwardness.

    When Gordo insinuates himself into a dinner invitation, he recalls the old times with Simon, sharing how happy he is that Simon has made a success of his life. It’s not surprising, he tells Robyn, when Simon was class president, his slogan was “Simon Says” because he could make anything happen. At the end of the evening, after Gordo has gone home, Simon marvels at how some people like Gordo haven’t changed, the subtext being that Simon is all the better for having developed so much since their school days. That statement proves a delusion on Simon’s part. As Gordo persists with being a presence in their lives, Simon reveals himself to be a controlling and compassionless bully.

    Harking back to the days when adult thrillers like Fatal Attraction, Unlawful Entry, and Single White Female populated the multiplexes, The Gift employs the usual tricks of the genre to unnerving effect but never for a cheap thrill. The calibrated manner in which Edgerton shades Gordo’s actions with both innocence and suspicion reveals a priority to characterisation and psychology. Much of the dread is derived over the contradictory interpretations – what does this bottle of wine mean, is Gordo’s invite a reciprocal one or another opportunity to ingratiate himself, is Simon’s barely disguised hostility a valid reaction or does it lend weight to Gordo’s cryptic note about letting bygones be bygones?

    The beauty of The Gift is how long Edgerton maintains the mystery and delays the reveal of the root of the men’s relationship. “You’re done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you,” Gordo tells Simon at one point, and one of the prevailing themes of the film is that the consequences of past actions have no expiry date. The Gift is also about how abuse can take on many forms, even masquerading as kindness. Though the dynamics between the men are front and center, they are anchored in and reflected through Robyn’s perspective. In many ways, the film is less about the slightly homoerotic, victim/victimiser dynamic between the two men and more about Robyn’s victimisation by her husband.

    Her story may be The Gift’s actual core. Simon professes to be under her control when the opposite is very much the case. He boasts about her accomplishments to their new circle friends and denies that he doesn’t want her to go back to work. He wants whatever she wants, he says, and yet somehow he always gets his way. The dawning realisation that her husband may be something other than he appears, and that she may have been blind to it all along, is what makes the blood run cold.

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  • Joel Edgerton, one of the most promising Aussie actors in recent years, expresses his vision for family-oriented thriller movie in the form of ‘The Gift’. The movie shows his capability as a first-time widescreen movie director. He also acts as the screenwriter and the actor on this film.

    The story mainly focuses on the conflict among three main characters. Robyn (portrayed by Rebecca Hall) as a wife who struggles to have a baby while maintaining her relationship with her husband and the neighborhood where she lives in. The husband Simon (portrayed by Jason Bateman) that is depicted as a successful person both in the past and present. Then, we have Simon’s buddy in the past Gordo (brilliantly portrayed by Joel Edgerton) who come back to Simon’s life and later drives him and Robyn in madness.

    Unlike his previous roles in Hancock or Horrible Bosses, in which he is quite often involved in silly situations, Jason Bateman tries to break typecasting by portraying someone that experiences dramatic changes after he meets his high school friend Gordo. Although we will see such changes, it is no doubt that sometimes his portrayal lacks of convincing sense, and it brings us back to the memory where we should watch him on a comedic movie instead.

    Meanwhile, Rebecca Hall brings a character that has to briefly battle her anxiety throughout the movie. Such expression is somewhat reminds us to the other struggle characters that she has portrayed before such as those in Ben Affleck’s The Town or Wally Pfister’s Transcendence.

    A credit should be given to Joel Edgerton. Not only does he deliver a tremendous performance as a mysterious and unpredictable Gordo, he also manages to create a fascinating screenplay with a twisted plot at the end. The plot might slow down in the middle of the movie, but it’s interest level rises again during the last one third part. Particularly for that part, Edgerton creates a twisted element that is somehow similar to that from Park Chan-Woon’s Oldboy. However, Edgerton delivers it with different execution and bring a question at the end. Those are the factors that make the film more interesting.

    The cinematography is good whereas the editing level is also comparable to other modern-day thriller movies. The shocking moments, meanwhile, are not as many as I have expected, but they come at the right time.

    Overall, through this movie, Edgerton has proved that he is one of the directors (as well as screenwriters) that has has bright prospect in upcoming years. The Gift makes him as the next Ben Afflect who also started his career as an actor and later opened the eye of critics by directing an amazing movie Gone Baby Gone.

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