Bluray Review: THE GIFT

Psychological thrillers have always been a secret guilty pleasure for me in the past. Movies like What Lies Beneath, Dressed to Kill, and Deathtrap have been staples in my collection for years with the number-one spot belonging to Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Though I don’t watch as many of them as I frequently once did – as most of them that have been released haven’t caught my attention enough to seek them out – every now and then one does catch my eye enough to hunt it down and sit in front of it. When I first saw the trailer for this past summer’s The Gift, it intrigued at first for two reasons: Everyone who knows me well knows that I’m the biggest fan of Jason Bateman and that I watch everything with him in it at least once. Beginning with his starring stint on Valerie – which soon became The Hogan Family – and his leading role in Teen Wolf Too are what led me to develop a really big man crush on him and begin following his career. Lately though, he’s been in movies that are more miss than a hit so I’ve backed off from making treks to the theater just to see him on the big screen. Not that I still don’t admire him the way I do, I’ve just noticed that the quality of the films he’s been a part of in recent years has been lagging enough for me to take a breather for a while.

giftWhen I saw the first trailer for The Gift, I was immediately sold on the fact that it was not only a thriller, but that Señor Bateman had taken on one of the three major roles. I have to admit, though, as the big horror fan that I am, that the other reason I was interested in going to see it was because the film’s poster art bared a striking resemblance to the one for the obscure and overlooked 1989 slasher pic, Offerings. I became even more excited as I was hoping that this was an alluding to the films being similar in some way. Though I already had an inclination that it was more than likely a delicious coincidence (or better yet, a playful nod by someone on the production team who’d seen and remembered the very cool artwork for that film), I couldn’t help but hope that The Gift would end up being in some way a horror film. Thankfully, that wouldn’t be the case.

THE FILM:

If you haven’t seen the film and are planning to, I suggest you not read any further as there may be slight spoiler elements below. The film is the simple but well-told account of a husband and wife, Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who buy a new home after moving to California from Chicago when Simon lands a new job. They are approached in a department store by a strange man named Gordon (the fantastic Joel Edgerton) claiming to be an old friend of Simon’s who attended the same school with him years ago. After reminding Simon of his old nickname, “Gordo”, the couple gives out their phone number, thus allowing the seemingly-harmless Gordon into their lives. The film itself starts off at a slow pace and remains so for the first two-thirds of the film watching the story unfold but what transpires from that point on is a study in the craft of storytelling. From the very first “gift” that Gordon lays on Simon and Robyn’s doorstep as an act of friendship, we immediately are taken down a path that leads us to believe that the handsome man that soon begins showing up periodically unannounced at their front door is out for something more than a friendly visit. The couple welcomes them into their home to be hospitable, invite him to dinner, and talk about the past and the connection he has to Simon. The conversations and their outcome end up ambiguous and never amount to anything more than banter between the old high school friends. Gordon soon starts to come over when Robyn is alone in the house, finding excuses to catch her off-guard while her husband is at work to spend time with her. Is his aim to move in on Simon’s territory and claim it as his own? Simon soon begins to wonder if there’s the possibility that his old chum could be posing a threat to his and Robyn’s relationship, though she innocently and genuinely believes that he’s just being sociable. His intention for slowly pushing himself into their lives soon becomes a legitimate concern for Simon, and on a night that Gordon invites the two over for a visit at his luxurious home, Simon puts his foot down and asks this acquaintance from his past to refrain from coming to visit and uncomfortably calls a halt to any phone calls or any other sort of communication with them. The two of them depart his home, leaving Gordon to process Simon’s words in silence.

The film then without warning begins to veer off from the direction it was once going and onto a darker and more baleful path. The next morning, Robyn finds the koi that Gordon had given them as a gift dead and their beloved dog missing from their home. When an angry Simon drives to Gordo’s lavish home to confront him, we soon discover that the home they were in the night before, the sofas they had made themselves comfortable in, and the stairs they’d climbed didn’t belong to Gordon at all. We immediately begin to think that yes, there’s something about Gordo that he – and the director – aren’t telling us, something undeniably threatening and indisputably uncomfortable. One morning, Robyn, suspecting that she isn’t alone in the house when her husband is away at work, faints in her bedroom. Does Gordon have access to their home without either of them knowing about it? It is here where it’s established that Simon and Robyn may be in real danger. Who is Gordon, in reality, and just what it is that he really wants? The film clearly presents the idea that Gordon is now a real hazard to both them and their marriage. But just when you’ve got that opinion of him lodged in your brain, and the film does a very good job of helping putting that judgment there, their mascot mysteriously returns and Robyn gets a apology letter from Gordon, letting the mistrusting Simon that he was willing to ‘let bygones be bygones’ which now gives a striking indication that there’s more to this situation than we’re seeing. And it doesn’t help any when Robin begins to ask questions that Simon refuses to answer and worsens things when Simon snubs any pleas from his wife to make peace with Gordon so they can all move on with their lives. Simon explodes, citing the pills he found in her room that she took from a neighbor’s medicine cabinet that are making her suspicious and paranoid, confronting her about the possible resurgence of a problem with prescription medication she had in the past.

The two go on with their lives, Robyn soon becoming pregnant and Gordo abstaining from visiting or making any contact with them at Simon’s prior request. It is here that things take yet another turn as secrets Robyn never knew about her husband and information about his past slowly begin to see the light of day. I’m reluctant to give the rest of the plot away as this is a film that any fan of thrillers should get their hands on, but slowly the façade of Gordon being the antagonist begins to peel away revealing something that we as the viewer would never expect. A revelation by a friend who also went to school with both Gordon and Simon steers Robyn in a different direction, changing the way she has looked at the circumstances surrounding Gordo’s behavior and she suddenly begins to believe that her husband isn’t the person she thinks he is. The news of Simon and who he was in the past drive her to do some investigating of her own and she takes it upon herself to find out once and for all just who Gordon really is and the details of their youth they are both keeping. She soon comes to find that her husband, the one person she loves more than anything, the father of her unborn child, fabricated a story about Gordo being molested while they were in school, the news of him possibly being homosexual caused a irreparable rift between Gordon and his father who almost killed him because of it. Her husband was an irresponsible and selfish bully in his youth, deliberately inflicting pain and suffering on someone’s life, causing them to downward spiral. To further complicate matters, the promotion Simon just received at work had been given to him due to fabricated information in an email to his superiors that ruined the career of – and life – of a co-worker who had been up for the same job. After everything she’d already learned about her husband, this would be the horrible straw that would break the camel’s back. The overwhelming magnitude of everything that’s happened causes her to go into labor and she gives birth to their son in the hospital.

This final act reveals though a series of strategically-numbered packages Gordon leaves at Simon’s door that the day Robyn fainted in her room, Gordon was also in the room with her the entire time with a video camera. While Simon is at home finding this out by means of DVD, Gordon is at the hospital with her, having gone to visit her to congratulate her. Simon rushes to be with his wife at the hospital after everything he’s learned only to be confronted and taunted by Gordon leaving us, the audience, to determine what really happened that morning. The credits roll, and we are to decide who the child’s father actually is and what the fate of everyone involved will be.

The film left me wanting more, but did a superb job of telling the story and leaving it’s denouement to our own interpretation. Jason Bateman’s performance as the antagonist was absolutely outstanding. From someone who was outed in high school at seventeen to live the remainder of my youth a pariah within my own circle of friends and people I knew, this film hit home. I understood Gordon’s reasons for wanting to find Simon and get closure for what happened between them. Though we are never told the reasons why Gordon was seeking a resolution or the reasons for needing to make peace with that part of his past, I related to the void in his life it caused and how indentified with the feeling of being mistreated and outcast for being different. Even though the film never establishes his sexuality outright, just the idea of having to endure life because of the lies spread by someone was something I could associate with. And to watch Simon’s stubborn refusal to come to terms with the misery he inflicted on Gordon, tough he did haphazardly apologize face-to-face, even when he refused to take responsibility for his actions as a teenager, switched me over to Gordon’s team. The film’s direction is near-flawless and Joel Edgerton does a spectacular job of presenting the plight of someone who just wants to confront – and resolve – a troubling piece of his past in order to move on with life. Everyone deserves that chance. His portrayal of Gordo was underwhelming and demure at times, but it was the perfect way to depict a character who knows what he needs to have a breakthrough but doesn’t know how to go about doing it until he has no choice but to make things right himself. Though the film does have a sluggish buildup and feels like it drags in some places, the final act is worth waiting for and is a testament to the fact that really good, character-driven films are still being made even when they seem lost in the bombardment of Hollywood cookie-cutter drivel.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

The Blu-Ray disc has an alternate ending as a special feature that gives more explanation of the events leading up to the film’s final moments including what really happened on the night the couple visited Gordon, what actually caused Robyn to faint in her bedroom and the real events that followed. With the ambiguous resolution at the finale, this ending would have given more insight and reasoning behind Gordo’s actions and the thoughts behind them. I would have been even more convinced that those actions were justified and would have had a more compassionate understanding of his motives. Nevertheless, I was satisfied with how the film came to its close and am curious as to what Edgerton will be involved with and in next. I have become a fan of both his writing abilities, his visions as a director, and his presence onscreen as an actor. And you were pretty mind blowing, too, Mr. Bateman. You remain a favorite of mine for years to come.

Comments
2 Responses to “Bluray Review: THE GIFT”
  1. Matt G. says:

    Very good review though my overall opinon differs from your you did a fantastic job of describing the overall film.

  2. Matt G. says:

    Although my overall opinon differs from yours, you did a great job in describing the premise.

Leave A Comment