'The Gift' Struggles to Overcome Its Faulty Premise


A psychological thriller like The Gift, the new film from actor-turned-writer-director Joel Edgerton, has to have a solid premise to succeed. It doesn’t matter how solid the acting might be, if the story isn’t believable, it just isn’t going to work. And that’s the case here.

The story centers on a seemingly random encounter that takes place between Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) after they move back to Simon’s hometown. The couple had been living in Chicago, but Simon takes a new position with a security firm that requires they pick up stakes and head west. As they’re shopping for furniture for their new home, they run into Gordo (Edgerton), an old classmate of Simon's. Simon doesn’t recognize the guy — or at least pretends not to — but Gordo recognizes him, and the two exchange phone numbers.

Before you can say “single white male,” Gordo starts exhibiting stalker-like tendencies, leaving housewarming gifts on their front porch and showing up at their doorstep unannounced. The fact that he’s rather expressionless doesn’t help matters. Eventually, we come to realize that Simon and Gordo have a history. Simon keeps those details from Robyn, causing a certain amount of friction in their relationship.

Edgerton deserves credit for his direction. He really keeps you guessing and never lets the film spiral out of control, even as Simon and Robyn begin to fear that Gordo is a threat that they’ve underestimated. But the problem here is that if Simon and Gordo have such a sordid history (no spoilers here!), Simon would have certainly kept his distance from the guy and never, ever invited him to dinner or even attempted to sustain a cordial relationship with him.

That said, the acting here holds the film together. Bateman carries himself well in dramatic role, and Hall delivers as his compassionate but troubled wife. Edgerton is appropriately creepy as Gordo, a guy who may or may not be as threatening as he comes off. 

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