Skip to main content

After all these years I was willing to let bygones be bygones.

The Gift
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Joel Edgerton’s feature debut as writer-director (he has several prior screenplay/ story credits, including The Rover) showcases the also-starring actor’s deft touch with the thriller genre and evident facility with his cast, eliciting an outstanding, against-type turn from Jason Bateman. One does wonder, however, if he’s a better ideas man than deliverer of a finished screenplay, as this might have been improved with a few more drafts.


Certainly, Edgerton has studied the suspense masters, or at very least late ‘80s/ early ‘90s domestic psycho thrillers (Fatal Attraction, Sleeping with the Enemy, Single White Female, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle etc.) for his approach to shock tactics, and possibly also the much venerated and recently remade Korean picture Oldboy for cues on how to unspool a revenge tale based on childhood traumas.


Bateman’s Simon returns from Chicago with wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) to begin a new job, and almost straight away bumps into school associate Gordo (Edgerton). Gordo’s a strange fish, hence his “Gordo the Weirdo” class nickname, and he begins inveigling himself in their lives, turning up unannounced, buying them fish and generally making Simon ill-at-ease and Robyn unsettled, the latter mostly over Simon’s responses to his old chum.


So far so psycho, and the best card in Edgerton’s pack is teasing out the unfettered weirdo angle until the halfway mark, before a reveal brings Robyn’s world crashing down about her ears; much loved Simon wasn’t just the “Simon says” class president, he was a resounding bully, responsible for a lie that destroyed Gordo’s life. Confronted, Simon merely confirms what we already know (because it’s been fairly obvious in the way he talks to others, belittles Gordo and generally presents himself) but Robyn has somehow been blithely unaware of; “The world’s full of winners and losers” he explains, and Gordo has only himself to blame for miring himself in a moment of ancient history.


The problem is, while Edgerton offers the mechanics of suspense in a diligent fashion, he can’t help telegraphing or over-stating story and character beats, ones that would have been more impressive if more subdued.  Simon is evidently a sociopath, crying crocodile tears to Robyn on his return from beating on Gordo, but that scene itself is a little too on the nose, presenting the bully as back in the playground. So too, the absurd convenience of Simon, at the same time Gordo is enacting his revenge strategy, indulging a ruse at work in order to get a contract/job, is too much sauce; we don’t need it, and Edgerton likely included it mainly to provide a grounding and justification for Gordo’s behaviour in the present; Simon still does this kind of thing, so he deserves it.


Because there’s no doubting Gordo is off his trolley (a deleted scene on the Blu-ray release provides some insight into the architecture of his strategy), a guy who spies, kidnaps dogs, breaks into clients’ houses, kills fish, drugs Robyn and leaves video suggesting he may have raped and impregnated her, just to deliver a very schematic lesson in how east it is “to poison other people’s minds with ideas” (that coda deleted scene suggests he didn’t, but drawing the line doesn’t make him some kind of good guy). A function of Edgerton’s over-deliberate narrative is that Gordo’s every conceit is telegraphed; we don’t need the coda because we already got the message that he left the client’s residence promptly after Simon and Robyn arrived as guests in order to eavesdrop on them, and that Robyn faints because she’s been drugged.


One of the problems here is that by dint of the structure, Robyn is necessarily made to look an idiot, caught between two men, both of whom are entirely unwholesome, and sympathising with both at various points. There’s also a sense that Gordo’s more bunny-boilerish behaviour pushes the picture too far into the OTT Hollywood thriller realm, where anything goes, when it has been playing with some potent and and resonant themes.


To that extent, where the picture works best is with Bateman’s Simon, even if his unravelling reaches a too-convenient rock bottom thanks to the dovetailing of two separate conspiring elements. Edgerton is solid as Gordo, but nothing more, while Hall gives it her all in a rather thankless part. Even given its excesses, though, I preferred The Gift to Oldboy; sacrilege as it may be to speak adversely of that picture, I was left nonplussed by its wearing of absurd narrative twists as a badge of pride. If Edgerton decides to take up directing full time, though, he’s probably got a solid career ahead of him.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…