The Gift (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
3Nov/150

The Gift (2015)

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Simon and Robyn look to restart their lives after a tragedy in Chicago.  After they move to Los Angeles, Simon has a chance encounter with Gordon, a boy he went to school with.  Gordon approaches Simon and Robyn with extravagant gifts and aggressive friendliness.  Sensing something amiss with both Gordon's attention and the way Simon deals with it, Robyn begins looking into their shared past and why Gordon is so interested in lavishing Simon with kindness.  Joel Edgerton wrote the screenplay for and directed The Gift, and stars Edgerton, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall.

Touching me touching youA quick glance at the poster for Joel Edgerton's The Gift brings me back to the late '80s and early '90s.  We were awash with various thrillers about seemingly normal people becoming violently obsessed with the object of their affection.  For the first forty minutes or so of The Gift, you'd be forgiven for thinking Edgerton wrote the screenplay during that time and had it on hold.

But then something tricky happens and there's an escape of sorts from the tensions which seem to form the center of The Gift.  Edgerton's artistry doesn't escape the pull of the thrillers which came before, yet that never feels like the intent.  Movies like Fatal Attraction, The Fan, and Basic Instinct all carried a class struggle of sorts.  Some outsider threatens the stability of an upper-class existence and the instability which results is typically resolved and the system preserved by the end of the film.

The Gift is smarter than that, and very much a product of our post-Great Recession times.  Edgerton's film seems like the logical continuation of movies like Blue Ruin or Take Shelter, where those of a lower class are outside higher economic strata and are lashing out at the forces they feel are keeping them down.  Gordon Mosely (played by Edgerton) is not flailing against people who are really in the same dire straits as he is in.  No, in the years while unrepentant bastards like Simon Callum (Jason Bateman) climbed the social ladder people like Gordon modestly went about their business and learned to fight back.

Edgerton works with cinematographer Eduard Grau to bring dangerous depth out of the darkness.

Edgerton works with cinematographer Eduard Grau to bring dangerous depth out of the darkness.

The class tension is apparent in the vast empty spaces Edgerton films Simon and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as The Gift opens.  Despite the fountains, the wood paneling, the great view of the city - Robyn is alone in this house and Edgerton adjusts frames her in a way that seems she is going to be swallowed by the opulence.  He finds the right beat to focus on Robyn's hesitancy to moving forward with her life in this way when Simon suddenly appears behind a glass window, voice muted, and instead of reaching to comfort his wife blows on the glass and makes a heart.  Normally this would seem like a sweet gesture, but the emptiness of the home combined with Robyn's timid steps and Simon's push for her to accept this as their new home gives the exchange a quiet tension.

Edgerton's direction and writing wring the greatest drama out of Simon and Robyn's marriage instead of the way Gordon seems to start stalking Simon.  There are some great confrontations between Gordon and Simon but Edgerton always finds a way to return to the sight of lonely, lovely, Robyn.  Hall's performance is crucial to the affect of The Gift and all the shots of Robyn alone in a crowded room, or wedged against the wall when Simon is on one of his jerkish rants, would not amount to much if Hall were not such a gifted performer.  The shifts in her body language are crucial to the turning points of The Gift, such as the way her smile fades after one of Simon's bad jokes or the way her entire body seems to light up when Gordon asks her how she is.  This is a woman who has had so much assumed of her for so long that the kindness she expects from her husband opens a reservoir of happiness when she receives it from a total stranger.

Bateman, as Simon, is one of The Gift's biggest surprise achievements.  I've written a lot of harsh things about Bateman in the past because his supposed gifts as a comedic performer have less relied on him and more the material supporting him, and seemed unable to elevate any material with his work.  In The Gift, Bateman taps into the entitled ego of the upper-middle class white American male.  Every one of his lines is delivered as though there is a condition to the statement the recipient is signing onto by merely hearing it.  As more information is revealed about his past Bateman descends further into this persona, wondering how anyone could dare question his grip on his work or family.  By the end of The Gift Bateman has abandoned the ego and gone for the id, releasing his rage on anyone in the hopes his stature and wealth will keep him safe.

Rebecca Hall's performance turns out to be the crux of The Gift, providing moral clues as to whether we should agree with Simon or Gordon.

Rebecca Hall's performance turns out to be the crux of The Gift, providing moral clues as to whether we should agree with Simon or Gordon.

Whether it will or not is of less importance to Edgerton's film than the way the sins of the past can be rectified moving forward.  This is where Edgerton's screenplay becomes key to the success of The Gift.  In many thrillers it seems our time spent with the characters involves just the juicy bits then they go back on to their successful lives.  By involving so many perspectives and effortlessly switching between those viewpoints The Gift we get an idea of the damage the unchecked white male American ego does to so many lives.  Simon may ask, "So what?", of the jokes and lies he's told in the past, but the pained silence of Robyn and sad look in Gordon's eyes answer in ways Edgerton's dialogue wisely avoids.

This leads me back to Edgerton.  Perhaps it's because of his outsider status as an Australian that he was able to dissect so completely our specific brand of American ego.  But I do not know what he draws from to show the kind of pain we see in Gordon's eyes.  When all is said and done, all Simon needed to do was say, "Sorry," to Gordon and mean it.  Does avoiding that apology mean anyone's life deserves to be shattered?

In this case, yes.  So with The Gift, and his earlier screenplay work for The Square and excellent performance in Warrior, I realized Edgerton is making movies which speak to empathy on a grand genre scale I have not seen in some time.

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Tail - The GiftThe Gift (2015)

Screenplay written and directed by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton.

Posted by Andrew

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