The Gift ***1/2
Remember that kid (or kids) in high school who were simultaneously worshiped, envied, admired, disliked and even feared? They often came from privilege, had superior intellect, looked like Teen Beat cover models, were superstar athletes, and who were at best manipulative assholes and at their worst, bullies?
This describes Jason Bateman’s character, Simon, in the psychological thriller “The Gift.” When Simon, now in his 40s, moves back to his home town in California with his emotionally frail wife, Robyn, played by Rebecca Hall, the couple run into Gordo (Gordon), played by the movie’s screenwriter and director Joel Edgerton.
“Gordo the Wierdo,” as he was once known, has a bit of unfinished business with Simon, and the story unfolds slowly and grows like the pit in your stomach. The low-budget ($5 million) semi-indie Australian-American production feels like a big league thriller, with perfect casting and a spooky tone, helped by the great soundtrack of Danny Bensi.
The movie explores the dark theme of how hidden sins of the past will come back to haunt you in the most profound ways. “The Gift” is not a perfect replication of genre masterpieces such as “Black Swan,” “Mystic River,” “Cape Fear,” “Fatal Attraction” or “The Game,” but it’s plenty creepy and proof that a great summer movie need not be a big-budget action flick, and that in and of itself is a gift.
What do those stars mean?
* Really, really, really bad. Don’t bother.
** Pretty bad, with one or more redeeming scenes.
*** Pretty good, but maybe not great, worth seeing for most
**** Really great, a winning combination of story, casting, and directing
***** The rarest gem, an all-around perfect motion picture