"The Gift" Implodes In Execrable Third Act

Actor Joel Edgerton (“The Great Gatsby”) makes his feature length directorial debut with occasional nail-biter “The Gift” from a screenplay he wrote. He also plays the film’s antagonist, Gordon “Gordo” Moseley, a husk of a man who may or may not be dangerous.

Gordo’s introduction is as undetectable as his personality. As newly relocated newlyweds Simon (Jason Bateman, “Identity Thief”) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall, “The Prestige”) browse the racks at a department store, Gordo lurks on the periphery, announcing his presence only after silent, careful consideration.

He introduces himself as an old friend of Simon’s, to decidedly mixed reception. Simon is distant and incredulous, Robyn warm and welcoming. Their dispositions don’t change much in the following weeks, Simon exceedingly wary of this steadily blossoming but unwanted friendship. Robyn isn’t nearly as perturbed, mostly shrugging off Gordo’s unsolicited trips to their new home. He seems friendly enough, she reasons.

As Gordo’s behavior becomes increasingly strange – his ceaseless parade of housewarming gifts, especially – Simon finally works up the nerve to break it off.

Up to this point, Edgerton’s hand remains steady. The film is well-staged and well-acted, playing like the simple but confident thriller it aspires to be. Hall is good, Bateman is better, and Edgerton channels Michael Shannon to great effect, painting Gordo as a less threatening Norman Bates.

Through the halfway mark and even beyond, audiences should find “The Gift” an ensconcing creep-fest, hearkening back to madman mood pieces like “Cape Fear” (Scorsese’s version in particular) and “Psycho,” with a touch of director David Fincher (the modern day master on obsession put to film).

So far, so good, until Joel Edgerton, screenwriter, self-destructs. Spectacularly.

The third act of “The Gift” is so gross, so exploitative that it’s a wonder it made it from page to screen uncontested. Without involving heavy spoilers, it concerns the filmmaker’s treatment of his female lead, rendering her character little more than a prop and her arc immaterial. What was once an intriguing morality play turns shortsighted at best, puerile at worst, invoking the most hackneyed and uncultured plot turn in recent memory.

For a film that initially plays like the kind of movie M. Night Shyamalan would be making had his career not become a slow-motion car crash, it’s a crippling conclusion. It retroactively blows up much of what came before, stripping its best scenes of meaning and the film at large of any rewatchability.

“The Gift” is not a bad film – some of it even borders on riveting – but it does become an ugly one.

Either Edgerton didn’t trust his audience to embrace a more humanistic (or at least subtler) conclusion, or he didn’t know any better. Either way, it’s an unseemly black mark on an initially compelling movie. Its flaws are fatal. Worst of all, they didn’t have to be.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: August 7, 2015
Studio: STX Entertainment
Director: Joel Edgerton
Screenwriter: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
MPAA Rating: R (for language)