Jason Bateman shares a first name with one of modern horror’s most famous villains, but as an actor he’s best known as a comedic actor. In “The Gift,” however, he explores the dark side of his horror icon namesake.
Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple recently relocated back to Simon’s Los Angeles hometown. Work prospects are good, they live on one of those airy, open concept houses that rich movie characters often own and are even trying for a baby to complete their perfect Southern Californian life.
Things change when the past, in the form of Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote the script and directed), an old school mate of Simon’s, becomes a little too pushy in rekindling their acquaintance. Unwelcome encounters and unexpected “gifts” bring to light a decades old slight and expose cracks in Simon and Robyn’s relationship.
A study in allowing bygones to be bygones, “The Gift” is a tightly wound psychological thriller that takes it time getting to the surprises. Instead of delivering quick thrills Edgerton concentrates on character. He weaves a linear but complex story that will leave some viewers pointing the finger of blame for all the trouble at Gordo, some at Simon. It’s rich storytelling that sees both sides of the argument and burrows itself under the audience’s skin.
Much of the success of the film is due to Bateman’s startling performance. Years of comedic roles have labelled him the good-natured everyman, long on charm, short on malice. “The Gift” effectively turns that persona on its head, giving Bateman the chance to get dramatic as the heavy, a man content to ruin people’s lives to get what he wants. Bateman is perfect as Simon, presenting him as a caring, giving man before he taking a bone-chillingly sinister shift.
Hall adds to an already impressive resume, evolving the character of Robyn from naïve to gritty. Caught in limbo between Simon and Gordo, she is the film’s emotional core, showing apprehension, betrayal and anger in equal measures.
In front of and behind the camera Edgerton shows a steady hand doling out character and story information in small doses. Each revelation builds tension until the climax, which packs a mighty psychological wallop. No spoilers here, but near the end the thriller aspect of the story gives way to an unsettling Machiavellian revenge angle, but not a Tarantino style bloodbath. Instead it’s a high-minded stab at the heart that cuts deeply to the core of what the movie is really about—should facts get in the way of a good rumour?
“The Gift” is a sophisticated European flavoured scene spinner with fine performances that will have you asking, Who is the real villain?