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The Gift

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During the first act of “The Gift,” I thought it was a version of “Cape Fear,” a film about an unwelcome visitor from the past who won’t go away. (The concept can be either thrilling or funny; see “What About Bob?”) Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall have just moved back to his childhood neighborhood near Los Angeles, into one of those houses that has more windows than walls (I was reminded of the great scene in “The Bling Ring” where we watch an entire robbery through the windows from a nearby hillside.) Bateman runs into an old classmate (Joel Edgerton) who clearly thinks they were better friends than he remembers. He’s kind of weird, and he shows up at odd times. He doesn’t seem to have any other friends, and he’s not exactly in the same social strata they are. After a few awkward visits, Bateman tells him bluntly that they don’t want to be friends, and he needs to leave them alone.

You can see where this is going… except it doesn’t go there. This isn’t a version of “Cape Fear,” it’s a riff on that idea, a riff that turns the roles upside down in a thrilling way. Emily Blunt is at the center, because she alone doesn’t know what actually happened between these two in high school. As she tries to figure it out — and to figure out what kind of person she’s married to – the film just gets more and more interesting.

Jason Bateman is playing the same character he always plays, except not for laughs this time. It’s as if someone binge-watched “Arrested Development” and thought, “you know, if Michael Bluth wasn’t so funny, he’d be pretty scary.” Joel Edgerton, on the other hand, is playing very much against type. I first saw him a few years ago in “Animal Kingdom” (link that) and thought, “this guy’s a pretty good actor, but he’s always going to be typecast as a bruiser.” That help up through “Zero Dark Thirty, and “The Great Gatsby.” I was surprised to discover that he played Pharaoh in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” — I did not recognize him. And now, he plays the very opposite of a bruiser. He also wrote and directed this film, and did a better job than most actors can do in those roles, so he’s very intentionally climbing out of the box Hollywood put him in. That’s admirable. I’d like to see Jason Bateman do that. I wonder if he’s capable.

I didn’t love the ending of “The Gift.” As I said earlier, Blunt has been the center of the film, and a sort of stand-in for the viewer. But then, rather suddenly, she becomes the way that one of them is able to attack the other. At that point, she has stopped being a character and become just a plot mechanism. That’s disappointing, since it was a smart, scary, over performing flick up until that point.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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