A Trip To The Movies: Review – “The Gift” 8.29.15

Mega Sized Movie Poster Image for The Gift

My friend and I happened to decide on this film, after we showed up at another, only to find out that it was sold out. Initially I was reluctant – as even despite of seeing its many fine cumulative scores on the movie websites I frequent, it just looked like something that all seemed just a little bit too familiar like something I’d seen before. That, and while I really like 2 out of its 3 main leads in both Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”, “The Town) and Joel Edgerton (“Animal Kingdom”, “Warrior”, “Zero Dark Thirty) who also wrote, starred in, who made his directorial debut with his film here. It’s also Edgerton’s second writing credit, as he also co-wrote 2014’s “The Rover” collaboratively with his “Animal Kingdom” director – David Michod. Though outside of this, and probably my major reason for my reluctance to wanting to see it, was the casting of Jason Bateman. An actor most known for his work in comedy (and mostly bad comedies might I add) and who I really couldn’t possibly envision playing a serious role such as the one it looked like he played in this. This idea of my not wanting to see a film because it has a specific actor or actors is somewhat of a new thing for me (at least in the past few years). Bateman is among that list of actors alongside Vince Vaughn (who in my humble opinion was terribly miscast in season 2 of this year’s “True Detective”).There are a slew of other actors like Bateman and Vaughn, who have made a string of so many bad films, that I develop what I call my own form of “blacklisting”, in that I don’t even have to hear anything about a certain film if I know it stars one of these actors of which I am referring to. That said, this looked to fit into a genre of which I personally can attest to really liking – the psychological, thriller, mystery one. And given Edgerton’s already proven gifts of being a proficient actor and writer. I was able to overlook the fact that it starred Bateman and walked into it with a clean slate, not really knowing anything about it other than it was Edgerton’s directorial debut and the 3 main leads who starred in it. That, and I read one blurb that described it as this year’s “Gone Girl” (2014) so I was intrigued.

“The Gift” centers around a young married couple named Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who at the start of the film, are relocating back to California from Illinois because of a huge promotion that Simon has received. This said town in California is also very close to where Simon grew up before him and his wife moved to Illinois several years back. After some setting up of the story, mainly the introduction of the married couple and their characters. Simon has a chance encounter with a former acquaintance from his former school days, the slightly off-kilter Gordo (played by Edgerton). Edgerton seems incredibly happy to reconnect with Simon and starts showing up unexpectedly, always bearing gifts. To Simon, he feels threatened by this. Whereas his wife, Robyn, while admitting it is slightly strange, likes to think a bit more highly in people and views Gordo’s gifts as just good faith gestures and simply nothing more than that. So when the gifts start piling in more and more and certain valuables of theirs go missing, Simon becomes more and more increasingly threatened. And somewhat to the dismay of his wife, let’s Gordo know explicitly that he is no longer welcome at their house. This sets off the wheels in motion for the rest of the film, as secrets are exposed and lies covered up, and as Simon and Robyn distance themselves further and further from one another as certain truths are brought into light. We as an audience learn that there are layers and layers of lies and deceit that unfold as we try to figure out who’s responsible for all of it.

The film wound up being a highly rewarding experience even given that my expectations of it were admittedly slightly below average going into it. It took me by quite a surprise in several different areas. It’s a fine example of a of the “stalker” family drama genre. Drawing comparisons, at least to me, to the 1990 film “Pacific Heights” that starred Michael Keaton, Melanie Griffith, and Matthew Modine. Another film about an unsuspecting couple who deals with a rather unruly tenant who is willing to go to any lengths or cost to expose the truth. Bateman does a serviceable enough job as the husband, and doesn’t necessarily add or detract (which I thought he would) from the film. As does Rebecca Hall as his wife, an actress who, at least in my opinion, always brings her A game to whatever project she involves herself in. But the real credit here is due to writer, actor, and director Joel Edgerton, who in his directorial debut, handles a rather complex and intricate script with a deft hand and a sense of confidence in his cat and mouse setup. The thing I personally would like to highlight about the film, which I personally feel like only the best ones do, particularly of films of this genre, plays with audience expectations and keeps them second guessing throughout almost the entire duration of the film. Just when I thought I had the film figured out within its first act, the film defied everything I thought it was going to be about, and proves to be a smart and refreshing psychological suspense thriller, with a creepy and dark tone throughout like last year’s aforementioned “Gone Girl”. Where we as a viewer (and I will say we because the rest of the theater patrons seemed to have a similar response – at least from the vocalizations I could hear from those seated around me) are stretched out like a rubber band and left on the edge of our seats trying to figure out the many of its plots intricacies. Even given that it got a wide release (probably because of the casting of Bateman), it still felt entirely indie, and none of it (and I mean none) played to audience expectations like so many other films do. It takes a lot of work on behalf of the viewer to constantly disassemble and reassemble its many different changes and shifts in plot developments. Which I personally thought was its greatest strength. And despite it becoming slightly confounding towards the end, it’s something that I think I would and could recommend to just about anyone.

[strong B]

Review: ‘The Rover’ 9.7.14

Writer/Director David Michod’s sophomore follow up to his electrifying debut – 2010’s “Animal Kingdom”, which burst on the scene with the type of energy that Quentin Tarantino did with 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs”. Except whereas Tarantino was sensationalizing the gangster lifestyle, Michod takes an opposite approach, showing them as beaten down souls riddled with paranoia who have backed themselves up into a corner where there’s no way out. There was nothing attractive or alluring about the lifestyle of the gangsters depicted in “Animal Kingdom”. But much like Tarantino did, Michod essentially came out of nowhere, and made one of the better (if not the best) modern day films about crime families. Which he in turn caught the eye of many on the film making landscape as one of the most promising new talents to watch (hence why he got a coveted slot at this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival lineup of 18).

Michod once again finds himself continuing to explore themes that he did in “Animal Kingdom”. Themes such as the nature of violence, where it derives from, and the moral complexities that lay behind it. The loose synopsis is that we are shown the aftermath of what appears to be a crime committed that went awry, and we follow the 3 men who get away. During a shoot out they crash, and hot wire a car owned by Guy Pearce’s troubled, elusive, and undeniably ruthless character.   They just messed with the wrong guy. Pearce follows them for no reason simply other than to get his car back. While in the process, he discovers one of the men who didn’t get away and was left behind for dead, played magnificently here by Robert Pattinson (anybody who still think’s this guy is just a pretty face has to look no further than here to prove themselves wrong). The Pearce character then takes the Pattinson character under his wing, and goes to seek revenge against those that left him behind.

This an incredibly dark, gritty film where the violence is unrestrained and very explosive. One of the film’s greatest strengths, and a nod to Michod as a film maker, is in its ability to show such levels of extreme violence but only at very intermittent times throughout the film. And unlike Tarantino, who’s violence can across as sensationalized and somewhat exciting, Michod is on the opposite plane. It’s what I’d call restrained yet very serious violence. When a gun shot or a round goes off you can almost feel it. I also thoroughly enjoyed the film’s score, which had an almost off-kilter sound, similar to recent scores from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood that he’s done with Paul Thomas Anderson’s films since 2007’s “There Will Be Blood”. I thought its obtuse use of sounds lended itself well to the story of characters who are on the brink of insanity. It’s also incredibly well shot, using the Australian outback as almost a second character, as all of this violence abrupts amongst a quiet rural topography. Again, another effective tool use by Michod. This turned out to be much like “Animal Kingdom” another brilliant film. And proved to us once again why writer/director David Michod is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve already cleared a spot for it on my list of honorable mentions (#’s 10-20) which depending on its resonant staying power, could even stand a chance at cracking my top 10 at year’s end.

Grade: B+