Maybe I’m a little jaded, but whenever I hear that one of my favorite actors has written and/or directed a movie, the words “vanity project” come quickly to mind. I know that’s unfair and that there are loads of top-notch actors out there who juggle all three roles beautifully every time out – and just as many really crappy actors who have proven to be surprisingly gifted directors, yeah, I’m talking to you Madonna – but, as a general rule, I tend to dread movies written and/or directed by actors. Unless of course their last name is Eastwood or, you know, Welles.
So, although I’ve been a huge fan of Joel Edgerton’s work since he first cut his teeth with a small part as a young Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels – and loved him in The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Gatsby and pretty much everything else I’ve seen him in since – I must admit that I was a little worried that Edgerton’s directorial debut, The Gift, would, for lack of a better term, totally suck. But, man, was I wrong!
Dark, twisted and profoundly unsettling, The Gift is one of the freshest slow-burn psychological thrillers in years. And though the film harkens back to the classic “fill-in-the-blank from hell” movies from the late-80s and early-90s, movies like Single White Female (Roommate from Hell), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (Nanny from Hell) and the granddaddy of them all, Fatal Attraction (One-night-stand from Hell), Edgerton deftly avoids easy answers and genre cliches at every turn. In fact, part of the fun of The Gift is that it continually sets up scenes and situations that you’re pretty sure you’ve seen before and then turns them on their ear in such a clever, skillful manner that you literally won’t know which end is up. And the performances here are just as surprising.
Virtually unrecognizable as a mildly-creepy loner from our hero’s past, Edgerton imbues his schlubby, sad sack character with so much genuine heart that you won’t know whether to run from him or give him a big, reassuring hug. And though indie stunner Rebecca Hall (Please Give, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is wife perfection as the hero’s doting better half, the real standout is Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses, Arrested Development) as the driven, career-minded, alpha male whose chance run-in with Edgerton at a fancy home goods store sets things in motion. Edgy, raw, kinetic, Bateman out-assholes a mid-career Michael Douglas (the undisputed king of onscreen smarm!) in a perfectly modulated asshole performance for the ages. Seriously, he is almost scary good here.
I won’t go into too much detail about the actual plot because, honestly, peeling away the many layers of this pitch black onion is part of the visceral thrill of The Gift. Just know that nothing is as it appears in this ingenious (and remarkably timely) little puzzle of a film and that you will definitely want to talk about the last few scenes with your seat mate afterwards. So, try and sit next to someone you know. And for the love of all things holy, please proceed with extreme caution the next time you run into an old high school “friend” at Crate & Barrel. Yikes!
Now playing on select Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Air Canada flights worldwide, The Gift is also currently available via streaming on Amazon Instant Video, VUDU and iTunes.