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Rebecca Hall, left, plays Robyn, the fragile, empathetic and unsure wife to Jason Bateman’s Simon, a successful and passively alpha-male sales executive.

Matt Kennedy/The Associated Press

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Joel Edgerton
Directed by
Joel Edgerton
Starring
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Country
USA
Language
English

Simon says the guy is "odd." Wife Robyn defends him, waving off his weirdness as social awkwardness. Simon says that in high school the guy was called "Gordo the Weirdo." Robyn wonders if her husband is being too hard on the guy: "I think he's nice and very generous," she says.

Gordo does have an unsettling manner. His low-end toupee look and unflattering goatee do not help in that regard. But he also seems damaged. He talks with a choked voice and has the sad, skittish mien of a dog that has been kicked around.

And they say every dog has its day – perhaps now Gordo wants his.

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What to make of Gordo is the viewer's dilemma when cautiously unwrapping The Gift, a persuasive, disconcerting film about bullying and bygones that are never altogether gone. Gordo is portrayed with nuance by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote, produced and directed this low-riding psychological thriller and convincing creeper.

The Gift gives slowly and keeps us guessing – guessing not only about Gordo, but about Jason Bateman's Simon, a successful and passively alpha-male sales executive at a computer security company. In the middle is Robyn, Simon's fragile, empathetic and unsure wife – a role nailed by Rebecca Hall. Essentially, we're Robyn, wondering not only about Gordo's game but Simon's as well.

Wife and husband have moved back to California, determined for a fresh start – what happened before? – in their glassy mid-century modern home. They come across Gordo at a furniture store. He recognizes Simon as an old classmate (not really a friend, it appears), and uses that tenuous connection to integrate himself into a social (and eventually disruptive) relationship with the couple.

The Gift recalls the stalked, terrorized or targeted yuppies of Fatal Attraction and Pacific Heights. Unlike the baddies in those films, Gordo's invasiveness is more subtle and his motives are more mysterious. He's no bunny boiler, though the couple's dog does go missing.

And Gordo might not even be the villain here. Simon's evasiveness when pressed by his wife as to the full nature of their schoolmate past is troubling. Who's the antagonist?

The viewers' sympathy for either man is changeable; Edgerton's touch as a director and writer is fluid – he eerily holds our attention, like Hitchcock holds a door for Tippi Hedren.

"You think you're done with the past," Gordo says. "But the past isn't done with you." The sentiment is both sad and ominous.

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The film ends with a delicious question, an uncertainty that will linger long after the credits roll – no ribbon is tied on The Gift.

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