The Gift

Scott Wallace
25th Aug 2015

The Gift is a gritty and genuinely tense psychological thriller that marks the ascension of one of Australia’s cinematic heroes to a global stage. Acclaimed screenwriter Joel Edgerton, best known for acting in much-lauded crime drama Animal Kingdom and for writing the dystopian The Rover, wrote, produced and directed this film.

In his directorial debut, Edgerton has made a taut, brainy mystery story that is more than worthy of the standard set by his past successes. The Gift begins with Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callen (Rebecca Hall) relocating from Chicago to suburban Los Angeles near where Simon grew up. Almost immediately, someone from his past, Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (Edgerton) re-emerges and sets off alarm bells with his strange behaviour, which includes leaving gifts on their doorstep seemingly out of nothing but kindness.

The enigmatic malignance of Gordo’s presence reveals more about the couple – the callous executive Simon and the sensitive designer Robyn – and eventually it becomes clear that there is a much deeper mystery behind Gordo’s fascination with their apparently perfect life. As things slowly come into focus, the film deftly performs an unexpected and intriguing reversal, with Robyn stuck in the middle.

Details slowly emerge at an organic and subtle pace. The brilliance of the screenplay is that seemingly throwaway lines or events always seem to come full circle. Without relying on the tired tropes of flashbacks, the film tells a confronting and visceral story that spans decades.

The cast does a superb job of carrying the nuanced script. Joel Edgerton is nigh unreadable as the soft-spoken Gordo, making him a totally gripping character. Jason Bateman also does well playing against type as the strong-willed Simon. The best performance, though, comes from the underrated Rebecca Hall, who has a completely refreshing presence on-screen and makes Robyn a perfect protagonist.

The interplay of characters is completely essential to the themes of The Gift. Its themes of guilt, from which much of the nailbiting tension of the film originates, are eloquently expressed through the moral complexity of the performances and the screenplay. Watching this movie, the audience doesn’t really know who to root for, making for a rather unique thriller experience.

Despite the film’s many, many good points, by the time it reaches the climax, Robyn has more-or-less become a pawn in the push and pull between Simon and Gordo. In Gordo's coup de grace to Simon, there is an unfortunate misogynistic undercurrent that ends the film on a rather sour note. That, as well as a couple of plot turns that are a little contrived or obvious, marr what could have been a truly great film.

Overall, though, The Gift is more evidence of what makes Joel Edgerton one of the strongest cinematic voices coming out of Australia. It’s tense and frightening in the best possible way, thanks to some artful and fluid cinematography by Eduard Grau and a dark, serrated score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the best, most thought-provoking thrillers you’ll see this year.

The Gift opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday August 27.