Imagine you’re visiting a new restaurant. The atmosphere is good, the menu promising, and when your food arrives you’re delighted that it’s juicy, complex and satisfying. But then, when you’re all but two bites away from licking the plate clean, you uncover hidden beneath a noodle a dirty Band-Aid. No matter how much you enjoyed this meal before that moment, you now hate it with every fiber of your stomach-churned being.
That’s how I feel about Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, “The Gift,” a thriller that throws away all the good will it’s earned with its final 10 minutes.
You might know Edgerton from his breakthrough role in “Animal Kingdom,” or as the Kurt Russell-like lead of 2011’s “The Thing,” or as the wealthy jerk in “The Great Gatsby” or “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” But in his “Gift,” Edgerton is transformed. The brawny actor slumps his shoulders and hides his braggart’s charm behind dulled brown eyes and a creeper goatee to play Gordo, the kind of friend you’d only wish on your worst enemies.
He’s the interloper in the lives of a Robyn (Rebecca Hall) and Simon (Jason Bateman), a couple trying to save their marriage following a bad patch. While furnishing their new home, they run into Simon’s old high-school classmate, who’s all too eager to reconnect. Gordo wedges himself into their world by dropping by with gifts, not even caring whether the couple is home. And when things turn sour, Robyn begins to fear Gordo could be a real threat.
Edgerton is superb as Gordo, carefully creating a man who’s both pathetic and potentially dangerous. And he’s cast his co-stars brilliantly. Bateman’s niche has long been arrogant jerks (“Horrible Bosses,” “Juno”), but with the wicked rated-R script — penned by Edgerton — he’s able to cut lose and become cruel. But it’s Hall who shoulders the bulk of the film, thrown in the midst of a conflict her character doesn’t understand. While her husband bullies Robyn to let the matter drop, her increasing terror about what Gordo might do pushes her to find answers. Hall, a critics’ favorite for her subtle and poignant performances since “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” seamlessly transforms from friendly to frightened. Her wits and confidence fraying at the seams as her uncertainties grow heavy.
The film’s best moments center on her days at home alone, frantic that she may not be. “The Gift”s tone leaves its audience to wonder if Robyn has reason to fear, or if she’s simply paranoid, cracking up like she has before. That uncertainty creeps into your bones, reminding you of every time you heard a weird thud when you were by yourself. An icy terror gripping you, hissing insistently in your ear, What if?
So why — as deliciously devilish and thrilling as it was — do I hate this movie? And I do mean hate. Without spoilers, I will say this: Edgerton has set up and incredibly suspenseful story that demands a gruesome conclusion. But how he chooses to get it is stupid and horribly insulting.
I normally don’t go into finale spoilers, but it seems I should give you the option. So here goes: Spoilers for the last 10 minutes of “The Gift.”
In the film’s final minutes, Gordo reveals to Simon he may have raped Robyn when she fainted at the movie’s midway point. The film itself had cut away, but Gordo gifts a DVD that reveals him lingering over Robyn’s unconscious body before tugging her onto a nearby bed. “The Gift” ends on a shot of a shattered Simon. Robyn is never told, because the movie no longer cares about her. How she might feel about her own (potential) rape isn’t what “The Gift” is about. Instead, its finale focuses on how her husband feels about it.
The catalyst of this thriller is Simon and Gordo’s happenstance meeting. But the protagonist is Robyn, whom the film follows closer than her warring husband and potential stalker. Yet the finale reduces her to nothing more than a body, property to be violated in a pissing contest between two grotesque men.
End of spoilers.
It’s a shame. Edgerton concocted an interesting concept. He gave a compelling and creepy performance. His cast did a wonderful job of breathing life into these deeply flawed characters, ratcheting up the tension and drama to a dizzying peak. And then he chucked it all away with the kind of conclusion you’d expect out of brainless soap operas. He fouled the whole film in its final moments, leaving this critic disgusted.
“The Gift” opens today.
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