The Gift (2015)

gift01And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together[1].

In Arrested Development, Jason Bateman (Simon) was a master in his reactions to the other actors — always perfectly tailored to the other character and the situation, not lazily falling back on stock responses — the exact opposite of “walking through a part.”

In the 20 years since high school, his character Simon has also been a master at moderating his responses; so well that he has hidden his true face from his wife for their for their entire life together.

Simon has moved with wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) back to his hometown in California hopefully to get a national sales position with an electronics security firm. Despite his line of work, it never occurs to him to install some security cameras around the house once things start getting a little weird.

While stocking up at a fancy housewares store, he is awkwardly approached by Gordo, an old high school acquaintance.  Since Gordo is ultimately revealed to be something of a loser, his presence in Bed, Bath and Beyond His Price Range is a little odd.  In fact, the meeting does not entirely feel coincidental, but it is presented as such.

Simon never uses the phone number that Gordo gave him at BB&BHPR, but Gordo does leave a house-warming gift on their front steps.  They feel obliged — or mostly Robyn does — to invite him over for dinner to share the wine.  It is expectedly awkward, and not because it was a bad vintage.

After an unannounced visit when Simon is at work one day, Robyn feels obligated to invite him in for tea.  The next day, Robyn sees that Gordo has sneakily left another gift at their doorstep — a bag of fish food.  She looks down and sees that he has also stocked their new koi pond.

Still not getting the message, Gordo invites Simon and Robyn to his house for a dinner party.  Simon is ready to cut Gordo off, but Robyn persuades him to at least attend the dinner.  It begins oddly, first as they are shocked to see Gordo’s residence is of Kennedyesque proportions down to including a steel gate to prevent escapees; then as they are told the other couple supposedly had to cancel at the last minute; and Gordo admits he is divorced — so it is just the three of them again.

After more weirdness, Simon has had enough and orders Robyn to the Batemobile[2] while he tells Gordo that they are not going to be BFFs.

At that point, despite an effective cloak of awkwardness over the whole movie thus far, the plot really starts into motion.  The koi fish are found belly-up and the dog is missing. Simon immediately suspects Gordo (rather than the more obvious canine fishkiller) and calls the police.  It did take me out of the picture when one of the detectives was Detective Bunk Moreland from The Wire.  It was just a dumb casting choice — like if they had cast Peter Falk as police detective, you would think “Why is Columbo here?” Then “Isn’t he dead?”

It becomes a bit of a cat and mouse game between Simon and Gordo, with Gordo losing a bit in each encounter even when he appears to win.  Slowly Robyn learns what a bully Simon had been in high school, what he did to Gordo, and that he really hasn’t changed all that much.  He is still able to manipulate and ruin lives without a second of remorse.

He refuses to take responsibility for the lies about Gordo 20 years ago that nearly led to his death, and he has the Clintonian mind of a sociopath, running background checks on people and keeping them hidden on a secret server in a locked desk drawer to be used at opportune (i.e. blackmail-friendly) moments.

Simon’s deceptions and false face crumble piece by piece so effectively, that you almost feel sorry for him.  Especially given the ultimate gotcha that Gordo springs on Simon.

This was a great small movie that I had heard nothing about, and went in completely blind.  Writer / Director Joel Edgerton performed admirably in all capacities.  But maybe he really is a creepy guy, so I can’t comment on his range.

Some people say that Rebecca Hall was given just another woman’s do-nothing role “as usual” in Hollywood.  This is just the standard whining.  Her role is fine, and the movie is really the tug-of-war between the two men.

Surprisingly good stuff.


  • [1] Much as I love Arrested Development, I never understood why he “had no choice but to keep them all together.”
  • [2] Ha!  Bateman and Robyn!
  • I’m normally a fan of short hair, but Rebecca Hall really needed to grow it out a bit.

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