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The Gift – Movie Review

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The Gift – Movie Review

Rating: C+ (Above Average)

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It’s easy to see the inspiration in Joel Edgerton’s direction of The Gift as he clearly wants to craft a thriller that gets under one’s skin and we’re not sure who to align ourselves with. However, his screenplay ends up with characters who are obvious and thinly written with some plot developments reaching the point of absurdity. There are occasional moments that feel suspenseful and then we get scenes that feature the usual clichés of the genre. There’s not a lot under the surface and that creates an experience that borders on dullness most of the time. The Gift feels like the sort of film that would have certainly found itself under heavy rotation in the late television hours of HBO during the late 1990s.

Even though The Gift tries to set up the characters as different than we might initially expect, their personalities can be seen from a mile away. Jason Bateman’s Simon already comes off as a slimy individual with no positive traits. He’s a terrible person with little to root for and the film portrays this side of him as a shocking revelation. His wife Robyn is portrayed as kindly and the few attempts to show a hidden layer of depth and guilt are superficial at best. The main antagonist Gordon has the most basic motivation and while Joel Edgerton does a solid job of giving off a creepy vibe, there’s not much character development and there’s never a lack of suspicion. We’re eventually left with a dull set of characters who fit specific archetypes and this lessens some of the suspense in the story.

Edgerton does showcase some prowess in his direction. Some scenes have an eerie quality to them and he and director of photography Eduard Grau have a strong understanding of how to use lighting in darkly lit settings. The use of sound is also expertly handled during the climax as more things are revealed and he does seem aware of what is unsettling to the audience. Some parts are obvious, but a couple of sequences do bring some tension and surprise. On a couple of occasions, Edgerton throws in a jump-scare, which will always be one of the cheapest horror tricks in the book. Some symbolic images early on will also clearly make appearances later, which is made more predictable when entire passages of dialogue are dedicated to them.

Surprisingly, the most interesting scenes in The Gift involve the inner-workplace politics with Simon attempting to grab a promotion. Gordon plays little to no role in those scenes and it looks like another film hidden within the walls of this thriller. It’s a solid little short film about the extreme steps some will take to climb the corporate ladder and Edgerton also inserts some sly references to the increasing number of young billionaires in the world. Simon is despicable and irredeemable with Jason Bateman going into obvious theatrics, but these scenes do a better job of delving into his personality than the ones he shares with Robyn and Gordon. It’s a better film that’s beneath a sadly middle-of-the-road thriller.

Joel Edgerton does show a lot of promise as a director, even if this feature-length debut effort is rather spotty. There are moments of inspiration and he clearly shows an understanding of camera and aesthetic. The story he’s crafted is simply one filled with obvious contrivances and scenes that occasionally drag the film down. It seems to disguise proper character development under the guise of moral ambiguity and it doesn’t entirely stick. Nonetheless, The Gift is a noble attempt and with a stronger script and more carefully paced editing, there could certainly have been a solid thriller here. It says a lot about a director’s abilities, when even a mediocre result can elicit plenty of curiousity in what a budding filmmaker will produce next.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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