Film Views: “The Gift”

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As Nick Lowe once sang, “You gotta be cruel to be kind,” but when it comes to “The Gift,” sometimes you gotta be kind to be cruel. This psychological suspense drama does involve psychos who use their own twisted logic to either get even or get ahead. The story is, on the surface, fairly conventional for these type of films: an idyllic-looking, upwardly mobile couple move into a new neighborhood for a new job and a “fresh start.” Through circumstance, they run into someone from the past (in this case, a high school classmate), and then down the rabbit hole of crazy the characters fall as their lives become intertwined.

Jason Bateman plays Simon, an up and coming young professional who works in security systems. Rebecca Hall plays his wife Robyn — who is a work-at-home interior designer. And then there’s Gordo, Simon’s emotionally wounded old high school classmate played by the guy who wrote, directed and, yes, acted in the film: Joel Edgerton. To keep anyone interested in seeing this film away from the plot twists, let me just say that all is not what it seems when it comes to these characters. Simon seems well-grounded, if not a little controlling. Robyn is a good wife, but she’s has her own demons she’s trying to keep at bay. And Gordo? Well, he’s just weird right off the bat. However, why he’s so strange isn’t revealed until later in the film. One thing that Gordo is good at is noticing details about Simon and Robyn’s life. You can just see him making mental notes of this or that snippet of conversation. To what end? Well, that’s part of why “The Gift” works well. The psychos in movies like this (think “Fatal Attraction” or “Play Misty For Me”) are always a little “off” when we first meet them, and in “The Gift,” it’s no different. However, the intentions of why these characters go full-blown crazy differ. For the films mentioned above, it’s usually a heterosexual coupling outside of a marriage or committed relationship (followed by the eventual break-up) that tips the mental state of an antagonist from “off” to Mayor of Crazytown. In “The Gift” the relationship is between two men. Simon and Gordo’s high school relationship is at the center of Gordo’s psychosis, and, in a nice twist, brings out a side of Simon’s character Robyn hadn’t seen before.

There’s a lot of suspense that gets ginned up throughout “The Gift” — some of it just for thrills, and some of it to advance the plot. Edgerton’s script is fairly tight, but he can’t quite transcend some of the expected trappings of the genre. His direction of the actors and the action is good, but again, he tends to fall into standard thriller framing techniques that mars some of the more inventive plot points.

when I saw the trailer for the movie, I thought I had the whole story figured out and wondered why Jason Bateman would bother acting in such dreck. But after reading a few reviews, and getting the “Hey, it was better than I thought it was going to be” recommendations from co-workers, I thought I’d give “The Gift” a try. For a semi-conventional thriller, it did defy my admittedly low expectations, and when the theater lights came on, I didn’t feel cheated by boilerplate film making, substandard acting, or bad screenwriting. So, if you’re looking for a bit of a nail-biter, “The Gift” will certainly fulfill your need for suspense.