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The Gift - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Gift
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

I have just a couple of nitpicky complaints about The Gift, which otherwise exceeds all expectations. One is much more legitimate than the other: the film's most effectively heart-stopping moment, by far, turns out to be a dream -- a completely unnecessary and cheap trick in an otherwise unusually smart movie. There's plenty of suspense and dread and creepiness in this story without it.

The other is admittedly dumb: I can't stop wondering which is the gift? Newly transplanted Los Angeles residents Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) don't get just one gift from Simon's increasingly stalker-y former classmate, Gordo (Joel Edgerton). The guy leaves lots of gifts, neatly bound in gift wrap, on their doorstep. This movie should have been called The Gifts. Admittedly that's not as clean a title. Whatever!

Fun fact: Joel Edgerton is also the writer and director, here offering a stunningly strong film for a directorial debut. Between his direction, a nearly perfectly constructed script, and his perfectly creepy performance, it'll be hard for him to top this.

I should note that I generally avoid scary movies, even ones like this that are more psychological thriller than shock-scarer. I don't enjoy getting spooked. But The Gift is the rare film that transcends the genre. Perhaps that's how the title can be rationalized: it's not the presents left on the doorstep, but the movie itself that is the gift. That's how it felt to me, I was so impressed with the perfection in turn of plot when the credits rolled.

And it's difficult to say too much about this movie without spoilers. Suffice it to say that Edgerton expertly walks the line between villain and hero; Simon and Gordo have a nuanced past that muddies those definitions. In the beginning, Gordo starts stopping by, maybe a little too often, but still manages to get himself invited over for dinner. He programs their TV for Robyn while Simon is at work. He gifts them with live fish for the pond in front of their house. He's socially awkward and overdoes it a bit, until Simon insists on "having a little chat" with Gordo to tell him he shouldn't come around anymore.

Gordo is a deliciously complicated character, slightly creepy one moment, eliciting empathy the next, but never does he stop feeling volatile, if not outright dangerous. Simon is frustratingly cagey about his past with Gordo in school, and consistently patronizing to Rebecca about it. (For his part, Bateman is perfectly cast for this.) For much of the film, Rebecca feels disappointingly drawn, like she's just another helpless woman. But she also proves to be more nuanced than she first seems. All three of these characters do.

There's a lot of interpersonal manipulation going on, and as time goes on we discover it's not at all one-sided. In the end it's simply a matter of finding out who winds up with the upper hand -- all, it should be noted, with almost no violence. There's plenty of the threat of violence, and that is precisely what makes The Gift work so effectively as a thriller. Even after Gordo is discovered to have broken in the house, this isn't about who will get physically hurt the worst, but whose life is going to end up the most ruined.

The fact of these characters, particularly the men, isn't right, but when it comes to storytelling, it's perfect. That is itself, indeed, a gift.

Joel Edgerton (R) gets a little stalkery with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall in THE GIFT.

Overall: A-
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