Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut ‘The Gift’ may go down as an unforgettable film experience – but not for the reasons I would have thought. Part way through the viewing this evening, I received news of Alan Rickman’s passing and was incredibly saddened by the great loss to the entertainment world and his family. The two experiences have, for me, become somewhat inextricably linked. However, in writing about this film experience, memorability should also be of significant credit to Joel who has crafted a truly excellent thriller. It is restrained and nuanced, it is beautifully shot, it is simple in its idea and the handling of the genre and the stereotypes it is following – and yet he has kept the whole experience fresh and novel.
A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a tailspin when an old school acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a secret to light after more than 20 years.
It’s a wonderfully acted, essentially, three hander – and as the narrative progresses we are left wondering whose story this actually is. I have been a long admirer of Rebecca Hall’s work – she always seems to bring a natural honesty to her performances that are restrained, play from an emotional core and nuanced. She is the standout here for me. This isnt taking anything away from the two men. Its refreshing to see Jason Bateman deliver a performance that is different to what he normally does and both he and Edgerton skirt the enigmatic edge well.
Joel knows how not to bite off more than he can chew. The film doesn’t revolve entirely around his performance – yet it is obviously key – so he is allowed the space to direct, he knows the genre well but equally knows he’s making a low-budget film so his script makes the most of the world he is playing in. It’s the restraint and confidence he shows here not just in his execution but his writing. It could’ve very easily and quickly fallen into the predictable – another ‘The Hand the rocks the Cradle’ but he doesnt. This feels like a small film by Hollywood standards but deserves to be seen by a wide adult audience where you can have a old school hollywood with smart character piece that is a genre piece with a satisfying pay-off. ‘The Gift’ reminds me a little of early Coen Brothers (‘Blood Simple’ for instance but with a polished high class L.A. aesthetic). If this is the start of a new career move for Joel, I for one am looking forward to what he does next.