The Gift (2015)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #583

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 7, 2015
Sub-Genre: Suspense/Psychological Drama
Budget: $5,000,000
Box Office: $59,000,000
Country of Origin: United States/Australia
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Joel Edgerton
Producers: Jason Blum, Joel Edgerton, Rebecca Yeldham
Screenplay: Joel Edgerton
Cinematography: Eduard Grau
Score: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Editing: Luke Doolan
Studios: Blumhouse Productions, Blue-Tongue Films
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Stars: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, Susan May Pratt, P.J. Byrne

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Suggested Audio Jukebox:

[1] Whodini Friends

[2] Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans The Gift

[3] Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans What Did You Do

 

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You ever wonder why we lose contact with certain people from school? Some friends remain close throughout our lives while others fade away into obscurity. There are a number of kids that I haven’t spared a solitary thought for in over twenty years and they’re the ones who like to surprise you on Facebook and suggest it’s time to pick up where we left off. Where did we leave of precisely? As far as I was aware, we left off with a mutual understanding that we meant absolutely less than zero to one another. Moreover, have you conveniently forgotten the time you pulled my jockey cotton so far up into my sphincter that I pooped laundry for a week? Or does that just fall into the whole “bygones” category? Certain acquaintances are better off promptly unacquainted the very second we don’t have to pass their ugly mugs in the hallway each recess. Here’s a suggestion – why not let “gones” be “gones”? Just throwing it out there.

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Heaven forbid we run into these nonentities in public places. There we cannot simply hide them from our timeline and there has to be some vague acknowledgement to adhere to those pesky rules of civil decency. Perhaps just a half-hearted nod or murmured “sup” will suffice? What if it doesn’t? What if you suddenly become a celebrity in your own back yard and they show genuine interest in dragging this angst out further? After all, fate has brought you back together for a reason right? At the very worst we’re talking a minute or so of polite conversation, swiftly followed by fifteen excruciating seconds of grim realization, a further ten of assessing all available exits, five of making excuses, then a nanosecond to vaporize like Scotch mist before their very eyes. That is unless they have a pen handy. Are you ready for this kind of sharing? We’re in the realms of sensitive information now and who knows what kind of koi we’ll find swimming about in our water features come dawn’s early light if we don’t nip this one in the bud.

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These are the kind of thoughts racing through the mind of Simon Callem (Jason Bateman) like wild buffalo as he is approached by one such blast from the past while out shopping for furniture with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (Joel Edgerton) just so happens to be a former high-school classmate and is thrilled to have caught up with Simon after so many years. Simon is less enthused however and reluctantly engages in any “small talk” necessary to make their reunion a brisk one. The ordeal is over soon enough but not before the obligatory exchange of details, even though Simon would be happy for Gordo never to darken his personal space again. Robyn, on the other hand, is far less critical and finds Gordo’s awkward behavior to be rather sweet and well-meaning.

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The couple have just relocated to California from Chicago and are currently settling into their new mid-century modern home in the Hollywood Hills. Simon is a typically go-getting sales executive and Robyn an interior designer, although her plans have been placed on the back burner temporarily while Simon attempts to further his career. To the casual observer they appear pretty much the perfect couple, although Robyn is still attempting to come to terms with a recent miscarriage and is evidently shouldering one helluva emotional burden for the pair of them. Meanwhile, Simon is dealing with the trauma in his own unique way, by kicking asses, taking names, and refusing to be drawn into anything that may require him to reveal a little sensitivity. Simon says and Robyn does like a good little wife, that appears to be the dynamic here.

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Enter Gordo and it isn’t long before he starts sniffing around their palatial home while the top dog’s away climbing that corporate ladder. It starts seemingly innocuously with a number of thoughtful gifts which he leaves on their front doorstep but soon graduates to Gordo showing up unannounced and taking full advantage of Robyn’s kindness. She sees no cause for concern and finds Gordo’s social awkwardness rather endearing, while Simon is a little more damning, particularly when forced to endure a rather uncomfortable dinner party thanks to his wife’s suggestion.

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The connection between the boys is decidedly one-sided but the overeager Gordo seems to have developed a liking for Robyn and this is a headache Simon could do without right now. The reason for this is unclear at this point but, what is starting to become crystal, is Simon’s passive aggressive nature and insistence that the final word should always belong to him.

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That said, he humors his wife and grudgingly agrees to let Gordo return the favor, this time on his turf. Something isn’t adding up for Simon and, after Gordo displays some rather suspicious behavior, he takes it upon himself to subject this pitiful puppy to “the chat” and cut all tenuous ties. Simon insists it is “case closed” but tensions are fast rising between the happy couple and Robyn is fast becoming aware that there’s more to this situation than meets the eye.

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After a series of unfortunate events begin to throw her further into disarray, she decides to do a little poking around in her husband’s past and find out what really transpired between the pair back in high school. This is where The Gift starts to become more open-handed.

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Edgerton’s directorial debut has no problem whatsoever in living up to its title as its sleeves are packed with treats and not the kind we will be expecting from a film which shares common ground with the likes of crowd-pleasing suspense thrillers The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Pacific Heights, and Unlawful Entry. Things appear to be set up for the customary crisis averted pressure cooker conclusion but he is disinterested in simply tracing lines and, instead, challenges the loyalties of his audience quite brilliantly. Clearly Gordo has some unresolved childhood issues and we’re left under no illusion that his intentions are less than honorable. However, what sneaks up on us, is our growing contempt for school bully cum life bully Simon and Edgerton does a marvellous job of blurring the lines.

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To begin with, it seems that Bateman is operating well within his comfort zone as he has the whole “nice guy” routine down to pat and appears to be running on auto-pilot. However, this is how subversive fascists like Simon Callem end up ruling the roost while good, honest people like his long-suffering spouse wind up surrendering their identities. For all of Gordo’s sociopathic behavior, Simon still comes across as the jerk of the piece, even more so as he knows full well he’s a jerk and it doesn’t stop him sleeping at night while his poor wife is up pacing anxiously. The fact is that he is no less of a ruffian now than he was back at high school and simply adapts his routine dependent on environment. It’s an ingenious angle, deftly handled by Bateman, as we find ourselves loathing his very bones and with an accelerating lack of secrecy once The Gift deems it time to shift the tone.

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Hall is no less magnanimous as the downtrodden stay-at-home wife type trapped in a broken-down palace with floor-to-ceiling glass making her feel that she is constantly on exhibition. Her character begins to question first her sanity, then her choice in bed fellow, as she gets the bit between her teeth and unravels more about his sordid past. There’s no smoke without fire and Robyn certainly has some of that in her belly, showing the kind of resourcefulness and determination required to ensure we remain in her corner throughout, while the boys continually attempt to out-wedgie each other.

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Meanwhile, Edgerton excels in revealing grey areas. Granted, not all of the sandwiches are in the hamper, but anyone who ever had their lunch money relinquished in the school yard will find it hard not to empathize with his wounded soldier routine, even when he is hell-bent on making life a living hell for the Callems (or one of them at least). His eyes tell a story all of their own and it helps create an interesting three-way dynamic that anchors the film masterfully. He also wrote the screenplay and deserves kudos again here for plain-spoken dialogue that never once feels forced or unnatural. Most critically, he takes an age-old formula and supplies it with a bitter citric twist, and the closing act could never be accused of simply painting by numbers.

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If there’s a storm cloud hanging above The Gift then it would be that the film could be accused of being slight, given the lack of discernible frights or violent set-pieces that audiences have paid their money for. But this would mean missing Edgerton’s point entirely as he’s disinterested in taking the easy way out just to forge fickle “friendships” with his addressees. Instead, he delves deeper into the darker side of human nature and the film is that much more dramatic as a direct result. On this evidence, Edgerton would do well to continue occupying the directorial hot seat as he’s certainly onto something. Thus I offer my full and undivided blessing for this particular gift to keep on giving.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Dread Factor: 2/5

For the Dread-Heads: Not so much blind terror as mild consternation, the true dread in The Gift should derive from those who recognize themselves in Simon as I’ve come across a fair share of these over the years and know the kind of emotional turmoil their autocratic endeavors advocate. There is a reasonable share of suspense coiled up in the film’s tail-end but it seldom overrides common sense Edgerton gleans his enjoyment from repeatedly challenging the audience’s prediction.

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