Monday, January 04, 2016

Movie Review - The Gift

The Gift (2015)
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton
Directed by Joel Edgerton

The Gift is a rather unique flick.  Yes, it would certainly be classified as a "thriller," but rather than place emphasis on jump scares or classically "suspenseful" moments, writer and first-time director Joel Edgerton creates an atmosphere with an always building sense of foreboding, and while some may consider the ending a bit of a "letdown" in terms of a lack of stereotypical "Hollywood-style" confrontation, the film ends up feeling more realistic and therein scarier than most flicks of its ilk.

Married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) have recently moved to Simon's old hometown for his new job.  While shopping for furniture for their new home, Simon runs into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old classmate of Simon's whom Robyn invites over for dinner.  Gordo is slightly off kilter in terms of having an odd personality that doesn't sit so well with Simon who becomes particularly distressed when Gordo brings a variety of gifts to them on multiple occasions seemingly in an attempt to simply hang out.  Simon ends up telling Gordo to essentially take a hike which doesn't sit so well with the former classmate who may have a reason to seek revenge on Simon for things from the past.

As mentioned, writer-director Edgerton does a nice job of building ever-increasing tension thanks to the various layers he peels back on the lives of Simon, Robyn, and Gordo.  With a film that is essentially a three-person dialog-driven piece (albeit with slow burn directorial flourishes thrown in thanks to the genre on display), Edgerton impressively weaves his story with the appropriate levels of dread and tautness.  Rebecca Hall and Edgerton himself come off the best with Bateman also solid.  The latter suffers a bit from the fact that he's playing a role we've seen him play before in that Simon is a bit of a slimy guy and while Bateman can play slimy guys well, it's seemingly de rigueur for him.  Still, all three actors play well off one another and help to create the necessary character twists and turns seem believable.

All these positives being said, however, The Gift misses the mark a bit in that it overstays its welcome a little too long.  I understand the slow burn mentality Edgerton was bringing to the party here, but there are a few scenes at the beginning and during the middle that I couldn't help but feel could've been trimmed without detriment to the overall storyline.  There's also a character issue that's been gnawing at me in the past few days that I can't quite get over.  Maybe I missed something in the story, but this particular "trait" is a bit to spoiler-y to reveal here -- I'll throw it into the comments if I remember but it has to do with things in Simon's past that are brought to life that strike me as a bit inconsistent with the story The Gift is trying to tell.  Still, Edgerton proves to be a deft director here and the film itself is a solid thriller.

The RyMickey Rating:  B


  1. Was it the thing about Simon being involved in Gordo getting sent to some kind of institution? Or maybe at least having to drop out of school because of some rumor? Am I remembering this wrong?

  2. Are you ready for this -- I saw this comment and I immediately thought that I couldn't remember my issue! Ha! (I wrote the review a few days prior to it posting.) Lord, I'm getting old.

    However, now that I think over things again, I've got it. From the get-go, Simon was pleasant enough with Gordo. Did Simon legitimately just forgot the shit he put Gordo through? Or is Simon that egotistical that he didn't think it was that big of a deal? I say this because Simon seemed more than willing to go along with the dinners initially (although he quickly changed his tune). I mean, I think the film tries to tell us that Simon is just a huge callous asshole so I'm sure he just figured he had done nothing wrong decades ago, but I still don't quite get why Simon decided to have anything to do with Gordo. I still bought into things and the film makes it work, but when you sit back and think about things, there are some issues, maybe?

  3. Hmm. I think it's probably too far removed for me to remember properly now the circumstances--but that's not going to stop me!
    Perhaps Simon trying to save face in front of Robyn/look like a good person motivated him some. As film progressed, I perceived Simon as struggling with acting a certain way towards/around Robyn that was not perhaps his natural or default state of personality with most people (he had a myriad of reasons for this it seemed--was there some problem at his old job, too to indicate he is struggling to be the person Robyn wants him to be?), so that could have been a motivation for him to try and seem like a "good guy" and go along with restarting something with Gordo and show Robyn that he's kind/compassionate. And they (Simon and Robyn) are kind of in the middle of a lot of change/life-upsets. Recent loss of child (this happened, right?). Robyn no longer working. Their moving. All stuff I would think would lead to feelings of isolation and/or instability and uncertainty. So, there's a possible need to feel connected to others and maybe a why-do-anything mentality going on, and then Gordo is right there all enthusiastic-like and wanting to spend time with them and forge relationships!
    But also possible that the stuff with Gordo just didn't figure strongly in Simon's narrative of high school (I can't remember if Simon was directly involved or only cursorily though--did he see something happen, or did he do something?). I think that often, the things that have been big in my life or those type of "defining moments" that stand out as altering my personality or changing my outlook, etc. haven't necessarily factored into it much for the other(s) involved. In the way that a person will touch someone's life, having a profound impact without realizing it. Whether by a conversation, an action, etc. I think it's easier than one would initially think to have the same occurrence be "huge" to one person and wholly not memorable to another--one of the compelling things about shared experiences but divergent perceptions. If you take that concept to a very extreme circumstance, could be a part of what happens with Simon/Gordo. What was a blip in Simon's experience could be life-altering in Gordo's.
    Also--people just aren't prone to feel compassionate towards others or self-reflective about their own hand in another's suffering--either consciously or subconsciously (that is, Simon could have acknowledged something bad happened to Gordo while not recognizing that his own actions were blame-worthy. He also could have acknowledged the bad thing AND recognized that what he did was awful/blame-worthy, but then in order to cope and live life, convinced himself otherwise--of different circumstances or different intentions--and believed this enough to make it his truth until it all resurfaces with being confronted by Gordo in life again and Gordo's perception/truth of what happened). Rationalization in order to live with oneself or for convenience's sake. At least, the more I see of human actions, the truer (truer?) this seems to me. I could actually go on about this ("this" being whatever it is I am writing about here whereby a word or action can change someone in a way the speaker or doer will never have intended, or supposed, or know. That's the main part of what I mean by "this," but also the lies we must tell ourselves/convince ourselves of in order to function and navigate the world and not just have a complete break down of 'overwhelmingness'--not necessarily the "this" of what happened in movie, because, again!, I can't quite remember what was going on there...) for a quite a while. I find it very interesting. and weird. and a bit cyclical.
    It's trying to write out long comments in this small window.

    1. My goodness! That's longer than any review I've seemingly written! I think everything that you're saying is true. There is some innate inappropriateness to Simon that probably causes him to simply "forget" about what he did to Gordo. It's stated that he's a bully in school so Gordo could've just been one of his many picked-on subjects who blended together. However, Simon's false accusations that Gordo was molested (which cause Gordo to leave school) feel like they should've been "strong enough" to warrant some remembrance on Simon's part, but Bateman plays it as if he doesn't remember a damn thing.

      Listen, I think everything you said is correct in terms of real life and the story. That said, when I sort of thought back on the movie, I just found that opening scene where Simon meets Gordo and then the second scene where Gordo comes to their house odd once Simon's truth is revealed.