Beware of ex-classmates bearing fish

Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall (from left) in The Gift (photo by Matt Kennedy/STX Productions LLC)
Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall (from left) in The Gift (photo by Matt Kennedy/STX Productions LLC)

By Richard Ades

Joel Edgerton is determined to set our nerves on edge with The Gift, and he succeeds pretty well. The writer/director/co-star knows just how to push the audience’s collective buttons.

The tale revolves around Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), who no sooner move into their new California home than they run into one of the husband’s old classmates: Gordo. Thanks to Edgerton’s subtly creepy portrayal, we instantly distrust this guy—to the extent that our stomachs tighten a little when Gordo overhears the couple’s new address.

Sure enough, he’s soon showing up unannounced, invariably when Robyn is home alone. Annoyed, Simon recalls that Gordo was always a “weirdo” and suggests that he has the hots for the pretty Robyn. She, on the other hand, thinks he’s just trying to be helpful.

Robyn, as we eventually learn, is not an accomplished judge of character.

As Gordo’s behavior grows more and more erratic, director Edgerton builds tension by supplying a series of shocks constructed in the time-honored fashion: He primes us with scenes of quiet dread followed by a sudden sight or sound. These are fun, especially when experienced with a vulnerable audience.

But Edgerton’s goal ultimately extends beyond eliciting Pavlovian responses. We learn that Simon has more history with Gordo than he’s willing to admit. It’s an ugly history that Simon would like to forget and that Gordo is unable to let go.

Frankly, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the early scenes, with their stock shocks, and the third act, with its unexpected complexity. That’s one of the few signs that this first-time director has more to learn.

A bigger disappointment is that the tale’s female lead is less interesting than her male counterparts.

Edgerton’s Gordo, as stated, is wonderfully creepy, while Bateman’s Simon has a tendency toward ruthlessness that becomes increasingly obvious as the story unfolds. As for Hall’s Robyn, we never quite get a handle on her.

We know she’s an accomplished interior designer, mostly because her husband tells us she is. We also know she has a history of pregnancy-related trauma and addiction. But she mainly comes across as simply a woman in danger—more of a plot device than a flesh-and-blood character.

Hall makes her watchable, but Edgerton’s script fails to make her knowable. The result: Even though The Gift continually scares us and surprises us, it never quite moves us.

Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)

The Gift, rated R, opens Friday (Aug. 7) at theaters nationwide.

‘Gravity’ named best of 2013 by Columbus critics


Sandra Bullock in Gravity, which Columbus critics named the year's best film (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Sandra Bullock in Gravity, which Columbus critics named the year’s best film (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity has been named Best Film in the Central Ohio Film Critics Association’s 12th annual awards, which recognize excellence in the film industry for 2013. The film also claimed two other awards. Cuarón was honored as Best Director, and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki won for Best Cinematography.

Columbus-area critics recognized these screen performers: Best Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave); Best Actress and Breakthrough Film Artist Adèle Exarchopolous [Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle)]; Best Supporting Actor James Franco (Spring Breakers); Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle); and Actor of the Year Matthew McConaughey for his exemplary body of work in Dallas Buyers Club, Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Other winners include: American Hustle for Best Ensemble; The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Terence Winter for Best Adapted Screenplay; Her’s Spike Jonze for Best Original Screenplay and Arcade Fire for Best Score; Best Documentary The Act of Killing; Best Foreign Language Film and Best Animated Film The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu); and Short Term 12 as Best Overlooked Film.

Repeat COFCA winners include: Jennifer Lawrence (2012 Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook); Matthrew McConaughey (2012 Actor of the Year for Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and The Paperboy); James Franco (2010 Best Actor for 127 Hours); and Emmanuel Lubezki (2011 Best Cinematography for The Tree of Life).

Founded in 2002, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association is composed of film critics based in Columbus, Ohio, and the surrounding areas. Its membership consists of 20 print, radio, television and Internet critics. COFCA’s official website at links to member reviews and past award winners.

Winners were announced at a private party on Thursday, Jan. 2.

Complete list of awards:

Best Film
1. Gravity
2. Her
3. American Hustle
4. Frances Ha
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. 12 Years a Slave
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. Before Midnight
9. Upstream Color
10. Nebraska

Best Director
-Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
-Runner-up: Spike Jonze, Her

Best Actor
-Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
-Runner-up: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress
-Adèle Exarchopolous, Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle)
-Runner-up: Brie Larson, Short Term 12

Best Supporting Actor
-James Franco, Spring Breakers
-Runner-up: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress
-Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
-Runner-up: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Best Ensemble
American Hustle
-Runner-up: The Wolf of Wall Street

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club, Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street
-Runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Breakthrough Film Artist
-Adèle Exarchopolous, Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle) (for acting)
-Runner-up: Brie Larson, Don Jon, Short Term 12 and The Spectacular Now (for acting)

Best Cinematography
-Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
-Runner-up: Hoyte Van Hoytema, Her

Best Adapted Screenplay
-Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
-Runner-up: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

Best Original Screenplay
-Spike Jonze, Her
-Runner-up: Destin Daniel Cretton, Short Term 12

Best Score
-Arcade Fire, Her
-Runner-up: Steven Price, Gravity

Best Documentary
The Act of Killing
-Runner-up: Stories We Tell

Best Foreign Language Film
The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)
-Runner-up: Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle)

Best Animated Film
The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)
-Runner-up: Frozen

Best Overlooked Film
Short Term 12
-Runner-up: Mud

COFCA offers its congratulations to the winners.

Previous Best Film winners:

2002: Punch-Drunk Love
2003: Lost in Translation
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2005: A History of Violence
2006: Children of Men
2007: No Country for Old Men
2008: WALL•E
2009: Up in the Air
2010: Inception
2011: Drive
2012: Moonrise Kingdom

For more information about the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, please visit e-mail