Film: The Gift

The Gift (2015) could have used a slicker title to attract more attention, but it’s an exceptional psychological mystery that makes particularly good use of its lead performers. The Callems, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) and Simon (Jason Bateman), relocate to Southern California from the Midwest when Simon lands an important new job. They buy an impressive house in the hills and move into it with grandiose plans for their future: Simon’s corporate-ladder climb, a possible relaunch of Robyn’s design business, and, eventually, raising a family. As they’re out shopping to feather the new nest, they randomly encounter Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed). Gordo is an old high-school classmate of Simon’s, a quirky, awkward fellow Simon barely remembers. Gordo starts insinuating himself into the Callems’ lives, paying unannounced visits and leaving gifts, clearly trying to befriend them. Robyn finds Gordo harmless, but Simon is cold and dismissive, citing Gordo’s reputation as a maladjusted oddball. Gordo’s over-aggressive tactics eventually rub Simon the wrong way and he moves to sever the connection. But Robyn senses there may be more to the situation than Simon is admitting, so she investigates—a life-changing decision that peels away uncomfortable truths about her husband and marriage.

Edgerton handles triple-duty admirably on all counts, but it’s the writing that really stands out. The Gift’s narrative is spellbindingly unsettling, full of subtle misdirections that invest the viewer in versions of its three main characters that are later subverted and revised as new information comes to light. It’s difficult to see a Jason Bateman film where he doesn’t steal the show; he’s an outrageously good actor, and his deployment here is perfect. But Edgerton and Hall also shine is quieter, more nuanced roles, and the way the script intertwines and then reveals all of their secrets is masterful. The only thing to complain about, really, is the under-utilization of a great supporting cast that includes Katie Aselton, Busy Phillips, Wendell Pierce, and Allison Tolman, among others, but their presence is nonetheless more than welcome. An under-the-radar gem.

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