Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) makes his directorial debut, has written and stars in this thought-provoking psychological thriller. It asks the question, what if someone you wronged long ago re-emerged in your life through a chance encounter?
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple whose lives are going pretty much as planned until they meet Gordo, played by Edgerton, with whom Simon went to school. At first, Simon doesn’t recognise him, but after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to query how well she really knows her husband.
Edgerton is not new to writing, having most recently penned the gripping Matthew Saville-directed feature Felony, but directing is a whole new ballgame. A long-time fan of intelligent genre films, the intricate plot was reminiscent of the great performance-based thrillers and suspense films that had been a staple of his adolescence. Incidentally, he also has several other writing projects in development in the United States.
The Gift started for Edgerton with a simple premise: what would happen if a high-school bully ran into his victim fifteen or so years later? What would or could be the effects? How might the past come to bear on the present? People, understandably, have a self-serving view their past. What one person may remember as a harmless practical joke, another could internalise as a deeply wounding transgression. In any case, most move forward with their lives, former grievances ultimately buried beneath the many layers of experiences and lessons that life throws up. But what if you did something to someone who was unable to move on? A person for whom your actions had become hardened. Unacknowledged. Unrepented. There are those who are simply unable to let go.
The Gift explores the impact of two people’s shared past colliding in the present and the collateral damage that ensues. Edgerton was interested in the aftermath of that kind of hurt and how that could play out in a psychological thriller. It’s about consequences, culpability and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. At its heart, it’s a cautionary tale about the aftereffects of not holding ourselves accountable.
The movie opens benignly enough, but it quickly gains momentum. I love the way Edgerton has carefully crafted the material (built the intrigue through a series of reveals) to give it an edge. The “killer” soundtrack simply aids the cause. Nothing is what is first appears to be. Edgerton’s character Gordo is quietly spoken, undoubtedly a little odd, while Simon and Robyn seem like salt of the earth people, until cracks start appearing in their hitherto picture perfect relationship. Edgerton toys with power and how it can shift and shift so dramatically. That’s what helps make The Gift so compelling.
While sitting there watching this, I was thinking how easy it is for someone who is sailing though life to conclude that nothing can touch them … until it does and how! I am mighty impressed by the career Edgerton has already carved out for himself and continues to do so. He has forged his writing credentials on the back of a couple of thrillers, which is my favourite genre when done well, and both have been. In The Gift he combines his aforementioned proficiency with skillful direction, so I am left asking if this man can do no wrong. Let’s hope so, because Edgerton is clearly a born storyteller.
Rated M, The Gift scores an 8 out of 10.
Director: Joel Edgerton
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Joel Edgerton
Release Date: 27 August 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television