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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I haven’t been to theaters much this summer. Outside of the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road and the surprisingly decent Jurassic World, not much has appealed to me. As I grow older, my tastes obviously change. I don’t care about another Terminator movie. I can’t get excited about seeing Tom Cruise play himself yet again. I’m sorry, Pixar, but I haven’t really liked one of your movies since Up back in 2009. In order to get back into the theater, I needed something made strictly for adults. I needed a nice little August thriller film. Maybe something along the lines of A Perfect Getaway, an excellent little thriller film from 2009. They just don’t make too many of those anymore I guess.
Luckily, actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, The Gift, landed in theaters this past weekend. Although I had seen the trailer for The Gift some time ago, I completely forgot about it. But it, being targeted specifically to actual adults, appealed to me upon seeing advertising for it last week. Finally, a movie outside of the typical “four quadrant” blockbuster! As noted, The Gift is Edgerton’s feature film debut as a director. So I took a break from life last night and went to the theater to check out The Gift, and I’m glad I did.
Starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as an on-the-surface typical married couple, The Gift is a domestic psychological thriller film with a tight script and taut direction. Bateman is Simon Callen, a 30-something professional who moves back into the Los Angeles area with his wife after she suffers a miscarriage and a nervous breakdown. Rebecca Hall plays Robyn, Simon’s interior designer wife who works sporadically from home and adjusts to the move to LA from Chicago. When out shopping for housewares, the two run into Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (a stunningly creepy Edgerton), a high school acquaintance to Simon with a dark past.
Edgerton has been a working character actor for quite some time. I have seen him in films like the Star Wars prequels, The Great Gatsby, and Smokin’ Aces. He has never stood out to me as leading man material but I have appreciated his presence in these crappy-to-ok movies for sure. He brings an oddball sense of paranoia and unease to The Gift, both in his direction and in his portrayal of Gordo. As director, Edgerton weaves a tight script with a deft hand, his film being partially an homage to classic Hitchcock thrillers. As actor, Edgerton certainly deserves awards recognition for his work, which he allegedly filmed in just seven days.
Bateman and Hall are also good, particularly Hall. I’ve seen her in films like The Town, and like Edgerton she stood out but I had never considered her leading material. This film changes that quite a bit. Like Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, this is potentially a star-making role for Hall. It is also a bit of a switcheroo for Bateman, who actually doesn’t play the straight man in an absurd comedy for what seems like the first time in a decade. Bateman’s role in the film, without spoiling anything, is meaty and complicated, and he nails it. Familiar faces round out the supporting cast, such as Wendell Pierce and Busy Philipps. The small cast works well and helps create a sort of intimate tension throughout the running time.
Throughout The Gift, Edgerton shows himself a capable director. I have high hopes for him in the next few years. Perhaps he will take after Ben Affleck, who has made some pretty impressive films over the past decade or so. The Gift’s script is a tad overwritten and the thing doesn’t quite fit together as well as the direction wants you to think it does, but it is a great first film overall for Edgerton. Rounded out by a strong cast and what was assuredly minimal producer interference (this is another Blumhouse roduction, the same studio behind The Purge series), The Gift succeeds as an intense thriller specifically targeting adults. Hopefully it does well enough to give us a few more in the future.