Joel Edgerton’s reason for writing “The Gift” had more to do with nostalgia than some long juvenile vendetta from his school days in Blacktown, New South Wales.
“The real germ of this idea was what it would be like 25 years after high school to have someone tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ Especially if you had been a kind of mean-spirited person in school or had been a bully,” Edgerton says.
He wanted to hold a mirror to those people who were bullies when they were younger and show how they impact so many lives. The odd thing is that when he came up with the idea, he knew it would work either as a broad comedy or a dark psychological thriller.
He went with the latter.
“The Gift” looks at what happens when a couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) become the focus of a person from his past. What starts as an innocent encounter turns into a battle of nerves and will.
Edgerton, who wrote and directed the film, stars in it as the man from the past. This is his first directing effort for Edgerton, who is better know for his acting roles in such films as “King Arthur,” “Ned Kelly,” “Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” He hesitated on casting himself, but it ended up being the best move for the low-budget film that was made at such a fast pace. Plus, it was too compelling a role to hand over to another actor.
The actor-turned-director says that Alfred Hitchcock was a big influence on him. Just like Hitchcock, Edgerton has created a cast of characters who are all flawed and hiding secrets. And, just like Hitchcock liked to cast likable leading men as flawed characters, Edgerton selected Jason Bateman — an actor best known for light comedy — as one of the central players.
“If you look at the history of comic actors like Adam Sandler and Robin Williams and Steve Carell, there’s plenty of examples of how comic actors can make you laugh as well as make you do a lot of other things,” Edgerton says. “More so than dramatic actors who try to make you laugh. I realized Jason Bateman was a great actor when I worked on a movie called ‘Smokin’ Aces’ and he has a two-minute scene. It is as funny as it is as terrifying. You watch that and you realize he can do anything.”
Much of the film deals with the former high-school classmates facing each other 25 years later. But Edgerton stresses the men are not the focus of the movie. The real core is how Robyn, the character played by Hall, grows and changes through the process.
“She begins to learn who she can trust and who are the real villains in her life,” Edgerton says. “Structurally, it was about making the film where the audience was sitting inside the character of Robyn.”
Hall, whose past work includes “Transcendence” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” liked that while her role seems a rather traditional preppy wife, in the end she turns out as the strongest character in the group.
Edgerton’s film ends in a way that will spark conversations. Edgerton swears that every clue needed to decide the right ending is there — you just have to look closely.
The three actors sidestep talking about their conclusions about the movie.
Edgerton likes the idea that moviegoers will have a discussion —or an argument — about what they just saw. To him, a film should be loved or hated and not fall into that middle ground of apathy.
Batman adds, “We have continued to discuss the ending of the movie and my initial thoughts have not changed. What’s good about the ambiguity that Joel leaves at the end of the script is that it’s a satisfying and mystery in that its not frustrating that the answer’s not given. I love when directors and writers leave a bit of an opening at the end, but the opening is not so big that its aggressively leaving a box unchecked.”