Written by: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Wendell Pierce
Getting revenge on your high school bully has been a fantasy many wish they could have fulfilled whether it be an attempt to be more successful or the devious manners found in The Gift. Undoubtedly utilizing some slick filmmaking, the gratuitous way in which this film shifts, particularly as it gets closer to the conclusion, loses sight of its theme as a whole, no matter how provocative its intention might be.
Moving to a Los Angeles suburb, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) and Simon (Jason Bateman) try to get integrated into their new area. One day, they run into Simon’s old classmate Gordo (Joel Edgerton) and Robyn picks up a distinct disdain her husband has towards the seemingly kind man. The more she learns about the history between the two men, she begins to see her husband in a different way.
The individual Robyn married may have raised some red flags initially but learning about his history has allowed for a new perspective. Just as Robyn goes through this experience, so does the audience as Jason Bateman, particularly known for playing the “nice guy” turns into such a horrible human being with his portrayal of Simon. In a sense, it comes as a piece of genius casting because of the reputation Bateman has built for himself throughout his career. Seeing him pull a complete 180 in how he portrays Simon in this feature was quite unsettling. This gradual progression and realization shifts our entire perspective of the narrative.
On the other hand, you have the mild-mannered and socially awkward Gordo, who may not realize how he comes across to people. The more you learn about him, the more sympathy gets garnered, which makes his advances and more forward interaction with Robyn and Simon a bit puzzling. This narrative becomes all about the reveals and how it has motivated these characters from the very beginning whether it be the start of the feature or back in high school. These motivations drive everything being done.
One thing this feature definitely has going for it is the gall it has when going for it with its shocking details. An initial reluctance goes into all-out shocking behavior as these two men begin to confront each other in different ways going all the way to the past. Part of that comes from how powerful a simple idea can be. The way it penetrates our consciousness and without clarification can further infest the person. If the truth does not get revealed, it can cause even more damage than knowing definitively what has occurred. This ultimately dictates what these two men go through in different stages of their life.
Everything sounds robust positively in this film until it gets to the very end. It had me on its wavelength until it leaned far too much into the gratuitous. It falls right into the concept of unverified ideas causing incredible damage but the battle between Gordo and Simon then spills over in ways that get rather disgusting to a degree where all connection is lost between these two individuals. It gets to a level of cruelness that defies the thematic resonance sought with the horrendous actions taking place between these two. Therefore it just makes the actions done here incredibly gratuitous, especially in the way it gets filmed here in the feature. It all comes as part of an incredibly clumsy third act that just spouts out important information for the sake of shock value rather than the way it was handled before in the far superior previous acts. Definitely a case of a third act completely ruining the fantastic goodwill of the previous two acts, unfortunately.
Plenty of props must be given, however, to Joel Edgerton who does a strong job as a director here. He has proven now on more than one occasion that he is more than capable behind the camera as he is in front of it. Certainly one of the more underrated thespians who have gone into directing in the way he wrote and directed such daring material. It ended up suffering by the conclusion but I definitely appreciate the swing taken.
Yes, a film can mostly be good but can be tanked seeing as the third act arguably remains the most important one. Not sticking the landing ultimately leaves the lasting impression of a feature film and the way The Gift lost me in the direction it takes means I ultimately cannot give it a positive score nor do I even want to recommend it to others. However, it’s very well-put-together and deserves admiration in that respect certainly.