In one scene in “Billy Madison,” Adam Sandler phones a guy he hassled in high school and apologizes for being a jerk. It turns out that this is one of the few wise things Adam does in the movie. Though the guy is gracious about the whole thing, we get a shot of him crossing “Billy’s” name off his hit list after he hangs up. Key line in one scene: Am I glad I called him!
You gotta watch out for those creepy loner types in Hollywood movies because they almost always grow up and don’t forget or forgive past injustices. In “The Gift,” Jason Bateman plays a husband, who has just moved back to near his hometown, and who is focused on getting ahead in his new job and trying again to have a child with his wife (Rebecca Hall), who we later learn is emotionally fragile following the loss of their first. When out house shopping, Jason bumps into an old classmate (Joel Edgerton who also wrote and directed the movie), who he claims not to remember, although Joel seems to remember every detail of their past in Technicolor detail. Indeed Joel is more than willing to re-kindle whatever their relationship was, arriving on their doorsteps bearing gifts and dropping by unannounced to chat with Rebecca during the day. But while Jason treats Joel from the start as if he has cooties, Rebecca sees him as socially awkward, harmless nice guy. Each of their reactions (and perhaps the viewer’s) says a lot about who they were in high school and the type of people they’ve become.
Surprisingly, Rebecca’s view slowly morphs into Jason’s, but only if you’ve never seen a big screen thriller before. Several of the rules hold true here, as well: 1) Random acts of kindness by strangers always turn out to be sinister, 2) If you think you’re alone and not being observed, you aren’t, and 3) If you go to the authorities with your concerns, you will hit a brick wall. Very soon, of course, discrepancies appear in Joel’s background, as well as chinks in his claims that he’s doing much better now, leading Jason to decide to call it quits with their burgeoning, well, something or other and Joel does not take the news graciously. He sends a note saying that he was initially willing to let “bygones be bygones,” (this is all in the trailer), and soon, Rebecca is asking pesky questions of Jason demanding to know just what Joel means by that. Soon, too, bad things start happening to Jason and Rebecca. While Rebecca feels guilt about cutting off Joel, Jason is equally convinced that it was the right thing to do – but Jason’s conviction that he and his wife are victims being terrorized by an unstable former outcast is obviously not that clear cut.
Feeling increasingly gas-lighted when she’s home alone and unsure whether she’s losing her sanity, Rebecca begins to probe into Jason’s past, even going so far as to unlock the top secret drawers in his filing cabinet. She hits pay dirt when she discovers that Jason did his share of bullying as a youth. But was it really more than just “kids being kids” as one character claims? (Obviously, because these things don’t escalate without fuel.) Though she begs Jason to make belated amends, it becomes apparent that Joel intends to get revenge for old injuries and settle the score at last.
“The Gift,” ends with a creepy twist, as Jason is coerced into a warped treasure hunt, and it looks like everything he values is slipping through his fingers. All sorts of lines are crossed in this movie, and it ultimately does an excellent job in showing that our present actions can make up for our past sins – but only if we’re willing to look in the mirror. Which sadly, only one of the main characters in this movie is.