The plot has enough holes to file the Albert Hall: The Gift reviewed

In the real world Gordo could have spilled everything to a shrink. But the incremental babysteps of therapy aren’t very box-office

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

The Gift

15, Nationwide

Were you ever not very nice at school? A bit of a tosspot to others, perhaps. Ever so slightly a jerk now and then and here and there? Were you inclined to take advantage of the weak, the vulnerable, the defenceless and lonely, to tease and wound and give not a single thought to the profound and lasting consequences that may come back to bite you in the posterior decades later? No, neither was I. At least I don’t think I was. Still, The Gift is enough to give you pause. If you are affected by any of the issues in this film, best log on to Friends Reunited, locate anyone to whom you may once have said even the teensiest mean thing. Just in case. And grovel, abase yourself, say you’re really really sorry and mean it. Because you just never know.

The Gift is a psychological thriller about a bully, his victim and a chicken coming home to roost 20 or so years later. Meet Simon, cocksure and stubblesome and just back home on the west coast to take up a super-duper new high-rise job in internet security. He and his thoroughbred trophy bride Robyn have moved into a spiffing hillside rental, one of those houses mainly consisting of glass that should only ever be occupied by people with nothing to hide. By the second scene, Simon and Robyn are out shopping for furnishings when a blurred figure at the edge of the screen refuses to duck out of shot. There he is again at the till.

Introducing Gordo, who wears naff threads and a stupid goatee and remembers Simon from school way back. Simon doesn’t seem to recall. No matter. Gordo, who somehow finds their new address, is soon dropping off quite random gifts — wine, fish for the pond, window cleaner — plus coming round, fixing the TV and dropping hintlets about the past and letting bygones be bygones. When he invites Simon and Robyn to dine at his gated residence, which seems a trifle swanky for an oddjobbing army vet, Simon says they need to break off contact. And, as Gordo remembers all too well from their schooldays, what Simon says Simon gets.

It’s soon apparent to Robyn, who is trying to conceive, that Something Is Wrong. She can’t sleep, hits the meds, hears noises along corridors, faints. The dog is dognapped, which is a bit of a worry. The fish are finished off, ditto. When challenged to front up to past misdemeanours, Simon does that thing men do when women challenge them to tell the truth: gets up, avoids eye contact, kicks up a storm by way of distraction.

Filmed on a budget, The Gift plays out in domestic interiors, contains few scenes with more than three characters, and so has the feel of a play that has been opened out. In fact, the script is by Australian actor Joel Edgerton, directing his first feature, who also plays Gordo as a creepy blank canvas. Even before it hurtles off the rails, the plot has enough holes to fill the Albert Hall. The main one is a whopper: for some reason Robyn (Rebecca Hall giving good watchful fawn) can’t spot that her husband, as played by Jason Bateman, is the most unspeakable jackass from the get-go. There is a very silly subplot involving Simon’s monkey phobia, while the script has not very sparky thoughts about internet snooping. Also it’s impossible to care about anyone, even the missing pooch Bojangles.

Edgerton makes much use of mirrors and frosted glass to work up the idea that no one is quite who they say they are (apart from the smug Californian supporting players, who have no personality at all). The script could have done with a couple more turns round the track in development to tighten it up. But Edgerton certainly knows how to make you jump out of your skin, and the finale — when the title becomes clear — has a satisfying cameo for a newly born baby with a foggy look in his eyes.

Of course in the real world Gordo could have taken the sensible path and spilled everything to a shrink. But unlike vengeance, the incremental baby-steps of therapy aren’t very box-office. So Gordo adopts the Trump doctrine (Ivana, that is, not Donald): don’t get mad, get even. Edgerton will go deeper with his next film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to track down some old school chums.

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  • Callipygian

    for some reason Robyn (Rebecca Hall giving good watchful fawn) can’t spot that her husband, as played by Jason Bateman, is the most unspeakable jackass from the get-go
    But Laci Peterson didn’t spot the fact that Scott Peterson was a maniacally self-obsessed narcissistic liar, cheater, and murderer. Of her.

  • painetcirques

    Your take on “The Gift” was far more entertaining than this tedious-sounding movie would have been. I was actually considering going till I started reading the negative reviews, all of which had the ring of good sense. But your review was the clincher in my decision making process. Thank you for sparing my husband and I an annoying waste of time and money!

    • Greg

      That’s too bad, because you’re missing one of the best movies of the year. This guy, I am sorry to say, is a moron. (For instance, he says Gordo “somehow” finds their address. Yes: he was standing two feet away from Simon when Simon tells the sales clerk his address in the very first scene. The camera is actually on Gordo, listening, as Simon tells the address. That is how carefully this idiot was watching the movie.)

      • painetcirques

        His wasn’t the only negative review. I am well satisfied I would hate this film. Not of fan of slow creeping weirdness with ambiguous plot lines and icky, disturbing endings.

        • Greg

          Oh yes I have no doubt you would hate the film! My point is that the reviewer is a moron. The movie is not slow at all, it is not creeping at all, and it is not weird at all, the plot is black and white, there is no ambiguity whatsoever, and the ending is neither icky nor disturbing. My point is the guy reviewing the movie is a moron. BUT you are surely correct that you would not like it. I think a new version of Fantastic Four came out this weekend; don’t waste your time on The Gift!

          • painetcirques

            There’s no need to trash my taste in films simply because we disagree about this movie. “De gustibus non est disputandem” — there’s no disputing matters of taste. I just don’t like this type of movie. It doesn’t make me a jerk. And while this reviewer may have been slightly careless/breezy about certain points, he’s no moron. I will seek out his reviews in the future, because I think we have similar tastes: helpful when one is deciding if a movie will be worth one’s time

          • Greg

            You’re descending into an ever-deepening spiral of illogic. First, side comment, you don’t need to translate some dumb Latin phrase for me. What is the POINT of writing it in Latin? It is obviously not to convey any meaning, or you would have just written down the meaning. So you’re wasting computer power writing down a phrase in Latin just to prove to me that you know Latin?!?!?! And then what is the logic I’m supposed to follow here, she knows Latin so I should be more respectful concerning movies?

            But anyway, we aren’t disputing matters of taste: YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE. I can’t believe you are actually trying to have a conversation with me about your feelings about a movie you haven’t seen. I have told you twice now that the review we are discussing is COMPLETELY WRONG about the movie. If you would like me to describe the movie to you, then you decide based on an accurate description whether you might like it, then that would be a conversation. But this conversation is dumber than the original review.

            (By the way, there is absolutely a very important reason to “dispute” your taste and that of this reviewer (the reviewer more than yours). Hollywood makes movies based on the money it can make. Morons like this guy have no right giving a negative review to a movie that they did not even pay attention to, especially when the movie is as good as this one. This guy has no business reviewing movies. He literally is not smart enough to sit in the dark for two hours while the filmmakers tell him a story (and yes, most five-year-olds can follow a Hollywood movie). So don’t tell me not to complain about this reviewer; it is important to western culture that people like this not exist. And don’t tell me not to dispute your taste. I don’t know anything about your taste, because YOU HAVEN’T EVEN SEEN THE MOVIE WE ARE DISCUSSING! I have every right (meaning I am justified) in ridiculing a woman who would argue incessantly about her “taste” in movies she hasn’t even seen.)

          • painetcirques

            I don’t NEED to see the movie; I don’t like the entire psycho-drama genre to which it belongs. And I didn’t tell you not to complain about this reviewer, I just disagree with your assessment of him. And — really?!? — “it’s important to western culture that people like [him] not exist.” Wow.

          • Greg

            I didn’t say you need to see the movie. You don’t seem to understand how little I care anything about you. I am ridiculing you for continuing this conversation about a movie you haven’t seen.

            Now, of course, you’re lying, which isn’t surprising. You were considering seeing this movie of this genre you supposedly hate before seeing this review. You need to hide your bullshit a little better.

            YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE SO YOU HAVE NO BASIS TO DISAGREE WITH ME ABOUT MY ASSESSMENT OF HIM. I’m not telling you as an opinion that he is a moron, I’m telling you as a statement of fact. If he said it was really well made and played with cliches and audience expectations in a really clever way and it had a very strong female lead which you almost never see in a movie and it was endlessly surprising and turns all your expectations on their head, but, eh, shrug, I just don’t like movies like that, then I would have no problem with it.


          • painetcirques

            I was considering seeing this movie BEFORE I found out it belonged to this genre, which I discovered by: reading the reviews. BTW, it takes two to continue a conversation, which, I agree with you, has become increasingly ridiculous. Glad you loved the movie, not everyone did, over and out.

          • Greg

            No, not everyone did. That says everything.

            You were considering seeing the movie based on what, you thought the title sounded like the sequel to Elf? You thought Jason Bateman, it should be funny? Give me a break.

            Yes it takes to continue a conversation but only one of us is embarrassing herself with every message.

            The most stupid thing about you is, wouldn’t you rather base your decisions on ACCURATE descriptions of the movie? Think how stupid that is! You’ve been told in detail how wrong it is and what there is to like about it, and you are sticking to your guns that you don’t like it because of something that isn’t even true. Really dumb.

  • Frank

    This is a pretty bad review honestly. What you call plot holes aren’t even plot holes. They’re things you don’t seem to get. The whole point was that people hide who they truly are. It’s about Jason Bateman unraveling into the person he is. Almost all serial-killers-next-door appear normal and quiet to neighbors. How many times have you heard/read, “he was the last person we would’ve suspected!” It’s the same for Robyn.

    To say it was all indoors because of a budget doesn’t seem relevant. It’s indoors because it’s supposed to feel personal. It’s a relationship. A family. A home. It’s not about the world.

    • painetcirques

      We hide many things about ourselves, from ourselves and from others, in various contexts, for various reasons. Sometimes it’s innocuous, sometimes a lack of self confidence, sometimes it’s denial, sometimes it’s based on rational fears — and, yes, as we all know, sometimes it’s a cover for a malicious sociopathic evil character. I still don’t want to see this movie; it sounds like a draggy hodgepodge with a nasty ending.

  • DeliverUsFromPeter

    He got their address in the store. It is only partly audible but viewers who pay attention hear Rebecca Hall’s character tell it to the clerk after making a purchase. He was next to them.

  • RIck

    Nice picture of Edgerton that’s not from The Gift at all.