The Gift, film review: Bullying and its consequences masquerading as a thriller

(15) Joel Edgerton, 108 mins. Starring: Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall
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The Independent Culture

The actor Joel Edgerton's impressive debut feature is a study of bullying and its consequences masquerading as a thriller. What makes one child persecute another? Do bullies really change as they grow older? It is while exploring these questions that the film is at its most intriguing.

In its early scenes, The Gift seems to be shaping up as a modern-day version of one of those 1990s yuppie-couple-in-peril movies (Unlawful Entry, Pacific Heights etc). Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, a husband and wife who have just moved from Chicago into their dream home in Los Angeles. He is starting a new job. She is an interior designer. They seem the perfect couple. The only shadow over their lives is their failure, thus far, to start a family.

Edgerton himself plays Gordo, a vaguely creepy figure they meet while out shopping. Gordo was at school with Simon many years before. The two men even look a little alike, but whereas Simon has made a success of his life, the socially awkward Gordo ("the weirdo") has all the hallmarks of a perennial loser. It seems that he is either psychotic or consumed with jealousy.

Edgerton only belatedly resorts to shock tactics and big melodramatic flourishes. This is a slow-burning and nuanced affair in which our perspective on the protagonists gradually changes. Their attitude toward one another also shifts. The film works as a Scenes from a Marriage-style drama in which a couple discover how little they really know about each other.

Hall gives a typically sensitive performance as the young wife who has a nagging sense of dissatisfaction about her seemingly perfect life. The final reel is predictable and a little heavy-handed. The Gift is far less interesting as a revenge story than it is as a character piece.