August has always been a dumping ground. A 31-day month where films that weren’t viewed as blockbuster enough to make the early spring/summer release schedule get to try and strap us out of our remaining pocket money before we hit the back-to-school sales. There are exceptions to this observation. Guardians of the Galaxy exploded to a nearly $100 million opening last August. And titles such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Bourne Ultimatum found their releases in the final month before class. But more often than naught, we get the G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of the release world.
But August can also be an interesting month to find those quiet releases that slip under the radar. Like 2009’s District 9 or 1999’s The Sixth Sense. This year, we have the first of what we hope are two films that should find an audience starting with The Gift (we are hoping Straight Outta Compton is the second).
Directed, written and starring Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Thing), The Gift stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a newly relocated couple who barely get settled in California when Simon (Bateman) meets a mysterious and quirky former High School classmate, Gordo (Edgerton) whom they happen to bump into while out shopping for the new home. Although Simon takes Gordo’s number, Simon and his wife are surprised when a gift is left on their doorstep the next day from his old acquaintance. Things get more and more awkward when Gordo begins showing up at the house routinely and uninvited – particularly when Simon’s wife is alone.
The relationship between the couple and Gordo is strained and obstinate from the get go and as the story develops different layers to the old relationship between the two men begin to reveal events that mold the tension in the film’s second half.
The rigidity could not come at a worse time for Simon. Bucking for a new promotion and fucking for a new addition to the family, the stress level within the home is at breaking levels without the mysterious Gordo popping in and out of their lives.
Things hit their climax when Simon’s wife begins to question the actions – past and present – of her husband. And her investigation will drive all three characters into directors unforeseen through the film’s first reel.
Joel Edgerton the writer/director can take a bow. As a writer and/or director his resume is short and unfamiliar. But with The Gift, Edgerton handles himself like a Hitchcockian pro and he allows his leads to shine (particularly Bateman against type) in a story that is littered with intelligent dialogue and character actions. Edgerton does not seem to be in a rush to make some of the more startling reveals and this only adds to the character development that will be essential for the film’s conclusion.
A dream sequence with the sole purpose of getting a startling reaction out of the audience is the only drawback to a film that plays out hitting ever bar in the appropriate limbo bar setting. Bateman is surprisingly believable as an ambitious bully who has forged a life of getting what he wants from what he perceives as being hard work and being smarter than the persons on his right and left. And Rebecca Hall gives a subdued performance that is rich in texture whether in scripted words or in suspicious looks.
The Gift may or may not perform well at the box office due to its lack of flash or superhero style. But for those that enjoy a good story, good performances and believable characters, the summer has offered no better.