Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hours, 48 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Written and Directed by Joel Edgerton (directorial debut)
Actor Joel Edgerton has nearly done it all. As mostly a character-actor, he's a guy that you see and recognize from...somewhere...but he has not quite reached the "A-List" despite an acting career that has spanned over 20 years. Funny how things work: It turns out Joel Edgerton is also a skilled writer/director, if his debut film in both of those categories, The Gift (opening today), is any indication. He definitely leaves a mark and is bound to turn some heads with this gripping but far from perfect, mystery-thriller.
We know that this will not be a typical thriller the minute we see that its star is a not-so-typical actor, at least for this genre. Jason Bateman, who has built a resume almost entirely made up of comedies, plays it straight and gives an impressive performance as Simon, a married man on the verge of a massive promotion at work, who runs into an old high school classmate seemingly by chance. Anyone who has ever seen Bateman in anything at all, knows of course, that he has always been capable of being an effective leading man. Here, his likability is key to his casting.
One day while shopping with his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), he runs into an old mate who was once called "Gordo the Weirdo" (Joel Edgerton). At first he doesn't recognize him, but they politely exchange numbers and plan to meet for dinner soon. Overhearing their address as Simon gives it to the check-out clerk, Gordo begins leaving gifts for his new-found friends on their doorstep.
Gordo is the sort of socially-awkward...weirdo...typical of the stalker genre. We sense he is a criminal, and a creep, but our expectations are toyed with nicely by Edgerton, both in his performance and his direction, the more involved he becomes in Simon and Robyn's lives. Nobody is quite as they seem and there are some nice twists along the way that make this an edge-of-your-seat experience as well as a thought-provoking engagement.
But sadly, the effectiveness of the film's first half is destroyed under its own weight. It's the sort of film where the entire premise could have been avoided if characters would have just talked to one another in the beginning, revealed their cards or compared notes. Some characters lie or withhold information - and I won't spoil it here - when they don't need to, and much of the film is propelled forward when little tidbits of info are slowly released whenever Edgerton deems appropriate for effect. Quite frankly, some of this completely saps any momentum the film had going for it.
The Gift does work on some levels, but not completely, leaving it in that "not great but good" or "not horrible just OK" territory. The more we learn about the characters and the longer the plot unravels, the less things made sense and the more I could feel the manipulative fingers of Edgerton tightening around my throat.
The wrapping and presentation of The Gift is more titillating than what's inside.
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