Movie Review - The Gift (2015)

This is one of those films that start out good but then is completely undone by its ending. It's almost in the same vein as David Ayer's Fury. This film, written and directed by Joel Edgerton in his feature debut, doesn't make as many missteps as Ayer. The only true fault is the ending, but, as it's constructed, there are a lot of really interesting things.

Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses and Juno) stars as Simon Callen, a married man who moves back to his home-town or close to it in California from where he met his wife. He has a new job at a big firm or business. He's making enough money to afford a great house with a great view, a great car and a nice office, but he apparently wants more and will do whatever it takes to get it.

Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Town) co-stars as Robyn Callen, the wife from Chicago who is a designer or architect. She left her job in that city to join her husband here. She mainly works from home. There is some concern about her health in addition to her career. There is a mention of her desire to have a baby but not yet having one.

Joel Edgerton (Warrior and Exodus: Gods and Kings) also co-stars as Gordo Mosley, a former high school classmate who realizes that Simon is back in town and tries to befriend him and his wife. He ingratiates himself by constantly giving gifts to Simon and Robyn. The gifts start innocently and innocuously, but then become increasingly awkward and weird, as it appears that Gordo's affections or actions aren't being reciprocated.

Robyn is only slightly bothered, but Simon grows quickly hostile to Gordo's gifts. A scary and tense incident reveals that there is a contentious history between Simon and Gordo. Neither will talk about it, so Robyn has to investigate and figure out what happened that's so contentious.

The reveal of what happened is what makes this film interesting. It makes the film about masculinity and identity, trust, responsibility and a little homophobia with Bateman shouldering a lot of it and holding it up with a great performance. It makes the film less a thriller and more of a potent drama.

The ending ruins that by twisting or bending the film back to being more of a thriller or horror film with a contrived revenge plot. It's the opposite of Fury in that the ending rescues the protagonist in a highly unlikely way. The ending here punishes the protagonist in a way that crosses a line.

It's similar to Fury in that it presents a rape and then tries to circumvent it. Ayer appears ignorant to the rape in his film, which is what sinks his movie to irredeemable depths. Edgerton at least is aware of the rape presented here, but his point is to say that regardless of a rape actually occurring, the idea of it can be damaging for life.

The problem is that the film goes about it in a way that feels offensive and wrong for the character. Anything can be brushed off by saying Gordo is crazy, so his actions don't have to make total sense, but ultimately Gordo's actions hurt or violate Robyn, more than Simon who is the intended target.

What's weird is that Simon experiences a downfall without any interference from Gordo. Gordo was aware that Robyn was the one person being nice to him. For Gordo to do what he does to Robyn goes beyond the bounds, especially if the goal is for the audience to have any sympathy for Gordo.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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