The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Gift

Just a few weeks ago with Jane Got a Gun, I mentioned what a big fan I was of actor Joel Edgerton. He's shown a chameleon-like ability as an actor who's taken all sorts of different roles as a star who is definitely on the rise. Well, he can add another category to his resume. He's now a director too, making his feature directorial debut with 2015's The Gift.

Having moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), is excited about their new start in a new city. Simon has a new job with a ton of potential for advancement and Robyn gets to start her own business as well. All is peachy or so it seems. Out shopping one day, they run into Gordon 'Gordo' Moseley (Edgerton), a former high school classmate of Simon's. The encounter is awkward after so many years, but that's only the start. Gordo starts by dropping off some presents unannounced at their new house. He starts dropping in without warning, often when Simon is at work and Robyn is home alone. Robyn isn't sure what to make of Gordo but tries to think the best of the situation. Simon, his work friends and their new neighbors, they're not so convinced. What is Gordo up to? Is he up to anything? There's more to every story. It's just a matter of finding out...

I must have seen this trailer about 384 times last spring and summer in advance of its August 2015 release. I felt like I'd seen it already so didn't try too hard to catch it in theaters. Well, enough time has passed. The verdict? Highly-recommended adult thriller. Go watch it. Apologies if the rest of the review is a tad vague, but this is a story that you should definitely go into without too much information. It's going to be far-more effective if you have no idea what's coming next.

First-time director Edgerton clearly has some talented both behind the camera but with the script as he penned the screenplay too. 'Gift' jumped out and grabbed me and never really let go. The biggest thing going for this thriller is its subtlety from beginning to end. There are no car chases or explosions or random bits of nudity. It is all tension and scene-setting, a cloud of anxious doom hanging in the air as to exactly what's gonna happen next. Edgerton hits the ground running. It's not just a tolerable first-time effort. It is a genuinely skilled, crafted thriller that keeps you guessing throughout. 'Gift' is the definition of a slow burn. When the technique flops, it drags the whole movie down in a boring haze. When it works, you get that queasy feeling in your stomach as the story unravels and we see what's really going on.

You can't say that with so many in-your-face thrillers that are all about shock value. There's a sense of mystery from the word 'go' here with the big reveal coming about halfway through, but that's far from the end. Edgerton's screenplay has its fair share of secrets to reveal in the second half, including a very well-handled "Oh, NO!" finale. A smart, underplayed thriller.

Basically a three-person cast on display here with some other smaller parts fleshing things out. You could see this developed in a way as a stage play. Bateman and Hall are excellent together as Simon and Robyn, a married couple looking for a fresh start. Why is that? Like everything else, the reveals come with time. It is definitely safe to say though that not everything is as simple and straightforward as it seems. We learn why the couple ended up in Los Angeles, and that both husband and wife are dealing with some inner demons that pop up at the worst time. It is in these tension-building moments where we learn these things that the story excels. We're never quite sure if we're hearing the full story, if we're hearing everything we need to hear. Both are incredibly talented actors, both of them getting to show off their range with each new frightening development.

Edgerton smartly uses the less-is-more mindset in playing Gordo, and more imporantly, in revealing the truth of the character. When he's on-screen,  we see a socially awkward individual who seems to be trying really hard to fit in. When we don't see him, it feels like his presence is still there looming over our story and characters. If you need more of a compliment for an actor's performance, I can't think of it. Though we learn much about him, Gordo remains a mystery. We don't see his home or much about his background. We don't see him interact with basically anyone other than Simon and Robyn. There's some good questions brought up as to what the character's intentions were from the beginning. Did he always have this plan? Did he adjust on the fly as certain revelations are revealed, as certain people show their true colors? Another mark of a subtle, unsettling thriller. Let the audience decide.

I can't recommend this one enough. It is original, unique and interesting from beginning to end. Where so often a thriller based on a twist falls flat when the twist doesn't deliver, 'Gift' takes that moment and uses it to surge forward to the end, saving some unpleasant surprises for the second half. Definitely worth a watch. Whether it be on-screen or from the director's chair, Edgerton clearly has a future in whichever role he chooses. I look forward to seeing what he has up his sleeve next!

The Gift (2015): ***/****

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