A great film has been scaring up good word-of-mouth for the past month, but I somehow missed it until last weekend. “The Gift” stars Jason Bateman, who normally acts in raunchy comedies like “Horrible Bosses,” in a thoughtful, foreboding and intelligent thriller that would make Hitchcock proud.
Focusing on Bateman’s character Simon, who has followed a promotion to a new job and life in California after bad luck in Chicago that is only mysteriously hinted at in the script, “The Gift” shows what happens when Simon and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) run into a strange old high school acquaintance of his named Gordo (played by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the movie). Gordo seems a little too eager to reconnect, and sure enough, he soon leaves a bottle of fine wine on their front doorstep that has to be reciprocated with a dinner invitation – and that’s where the cat and mouse games begin.
Now, most movies of this type would just be potboilers in which it’s easy to determine the heroes and villains, and where the lines of black and white, good and bad, are clearly drawn. But “The Gift” is vastly smarter than that, and instead keeps viewers’ heads spinning throughout as one unexpected revelation after another is made and the back and forth of revenge and retribution escalate – yet impressively with a minimum of violence and foul language compared to most R-rated thrillers.
Yet even on that level, this isn’t a prurient movie that’s merely existing to draw viewers in for cheap thrills. It’s also a deep mediation on forgiveness, and whether we can truly escape our pasts or always live in fear of having our worst moments be discovered. And by the end, a Bible verse plays a key part in all of the proceedings, as Edgerton realizes he’s crafted a modern parable for our times.
“The Gift” is definitely not the feel-good movie of the summer, but it may be the most intelligent and genuinely exciting one. It will also certainly give you plenty to talk about on the way home, making it highly dateworthy, and that’s a rare gift indeed in the current cinematic climate.