Sunday, 9 August 2015

REVIEW - THE GIFT (JOEL EDGERTON)


The commentary that The Gift unwittingly provides on the state of American cinema today is as perverse as the method by which it passes it. Appropriate too, that we should come upon a stock thriller of genuine worth through manipulation of cinematic shorthand that has been abused in service of inferior work for years - Joel Edgerton's film encourages us to expect one thing, then delivers another, just as it encourages us to expect far less of it. It's a fine film, though none of Edgerton's achievements transcend its essential character as a stock thriller. Your brain scurries around, searching for clues, aware that all is not as simple as it seems - that awareness mitigates the surprise engendered by any number of The Gift's narrative feints, even as Egerton engenders them from places your brain has barely sought to search. Sensitive casting and typically actor-centric character development are crucial components, not in elevating the film but in enabling it. The Gift is less a character study than trial and judgement, and the roundabout manner in which true characters are revealed feels genuine in this framework. The film has an outwardly linear structure, yet is thoroughly non-linear in its dissection of a plot obfuscated by time and the people who exploit its passing. It's maybe not as profound as it makes you believe (any bog-standard telenovela produces similar catharses), but it's very well-constructed in itself. The best casting coups are the leads: Rebecca Hall is the heart and soul of the film, as her role demands, though suffers a little from Scully Syndrome (an honorable, capable character defined more by what is done to her than what she actually does); Jason Bateman is a terrific foil, and whether or not the film shows its hand with him a tad too early, the manner in which he upends our expectations is The Gift's most shocking surprise.