Having come a long way from his days on Australian television in shows such as Police Rescue and Wildside, Joel Edgerton has now established himself as one of the myriad Australians enjoying considerable success in film and/or television in America and elsewhere, both as an actor and writer. In addition to strong on-screen performances in the likes of Warrior and Zero Dark Thirty, Edgerton has also proven himself a capable writer, penning the original stories from which The Square (directed by his brother Nash) and David Michod’s The Rover are based, as well as crafting the screenplay for Felony, in which he starred alongside Tom Wilkinson. With The Gift, Edgerton has added another string to his bow, taking on directorial duties in addition to writing the script and playing the strange – and very strange-looking – Gordo, a vengeful figure from the past who weasels his way into the world of executive-on-the-rise Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Although there are a few moments that may surprise the less observant in the audience, ultimately this thriller set in contemporary Los Angeles doesn’t really bring anything particularly new to the genre.
Simon and Robyn have just relocated to California from Chicago and are in the process of procuring items to furnish their new home when they encounter Gordon (Gordo) Mosely, a former schoolmate of Simon. Next thing we know, Gordo is leaving gifts at the front door of the house and turning up unannounced, none of which seems to bother Robyn too much, although Simon is far from impressed and it becomes apparent pretty quickly that he has something to hide. The look that Edgerton brings to Gordo is unnerving and certainly makes it obvious that his interest in the couple is one of malevolence rather than mateship. Yes, Gordo is damaged as a result of events from the past, but the sheer oddness of his character makes it hard to believe that Robyn would be so willing to embrace his efforts at friendship. There is nothing remotely charming or particularly sympathetic about Gordo and when the details of the catalyst event and the subsequent fall-out that ensued some 20 years earlier is revealed, we are expected to understand the type of person that Simon really is and, perhaps, switch our allegiance to Gordo, but it is really hard to invest too much in either of them.
Robyn is supposedly an intelligent, successful designer and business owner, yet she is so completely oblivious to the nature of her husband’s true personality that she is ultimately rendered as nothing more than a typical damsel in distress, hampered by an undisclosed medical/psychological condition that seems to be nothing more than a convenient tool for her incapacity to identify and defend the threat that Gordo poses. In fact, none of the other female characters (played by the likes of Busy Philipps and Allison Tolman) bring anything substantial to the table either, confined to the role of wife, girlfriend or kindly neighbour. Everything that happens in Gordo’s torment of the couple is derivative of so many stalker/avenger films that have come before it that nothing really stands out as a being utterly unique or unexpected. Yes, there are moments of suspense for those not paying close attention to the endless foreshadowing that precedes every such action, but ultimately there isn’t much that surprises. By the end, we are certainly happy for Simon to get his comeuppance, but Gordo engenders no sympathy either because it is actually Robyn who may, or may not, be the ultimate victim of his revenge plot.
Bateman does this kind of character so often that he has no trouble alternating between that polarities of Simon’s personality, while Edgerton’s Gordo is too overt in his appearance and actions to be truly effective as the tormentor. Hall, meanwhile, is burdened with a character that is devoid of any real substance and, as a result, finds herself at the mercy of two equally unstable antagonists. This is not Edgerton’s best work as a writer or actor, and it is hard to imagine The Gift (which shouldn’t be confused with Sam Raimi’s superior 2000 film of the same name) satisfying anybody who prefers a bit of complexity or subversion in their suspense thrillers. Upon reflection, I can’t help but wonder if the failings are a result of Edgerton simply taking on too many responsibilities and thereby being unable to objectively identify the shortcomings.