Aura of nerve-wracking tension
January 28 2016 12:23 AM
Aura of nerve-wracking tension
Aura of nerve-wracking tension

By Troy Ribeiro

FILM: The Gift
CAST: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
DIRECTION: Joel Edgerton

An interestingly-layered psychological thriller, The Gift takes you by surprise.
The film begins with a set of conventional tropes and then debunks each one systematically, scene by scene, letting the characters and the themes evolve naturally, than one might expect to see in a regular film. As the layers peel, you reach the heart of the story, only to realise that it was the journey that was more terrifying, as well as thrilling.
The narration starts off with a perfectly married couple, Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) settling for a decent house in California. They are relocating themselves there, as Simon has got a new job.
After they have moved in, they go about shopping for their new house. While they are shopping, they happen to meet an old high school classmate of Simon named Gordon (Joel Edgerton). Their initial meeting is a bit awkward with Simon being aloof, but out of sheer politeness Simon takes Gordon’s number and says he will call him.
But the very next day, a “gift” appears on their doorsteps and it is from Gordon. A few days later, making it look innocuous yet uncanny, Gordon shows up unexpectedly when Robyn is home alone. Robyn invites him in and asks him to stay for dinner. When Simon arrives home from work they share an uncomfortable meal.
After dinner, Simon tells Robyn that he is unnerved with this intrusive “friend — who is delusional”. He also reveals to her that Gordon was referred as “Gordo the Weirdo” in school.
Following this conversation, the audience is totally seduced by the roles of each of these three characters. It is the secrets: the lies, riddles and manipulation in their relationships and how their personalities mutate, that give immense pleasure.
This is actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, which is very impressive. As a screenwriter and director, Edgerton is clearly very sharp. He has an eye for detail, for he has skilfully crafted the characters, which are compelling and complex. 
Also, the plot has an aura of nerve-wracking tension throughout, keeping us guessing not just as to what will happen next, but as to who, at heart, all these people really are.
On the performance front, the film belongs to Joel Edgerton and Jason Bateman. Together they are a bundle of talent. Edgerton essays the role Gordon Mosey in style. He is eerie and manages to confuse the audience time and again as to who the real Gordon is?
He is brilliantly matched with Jason as Simon, who shifts from a genial husband and an affable corporate IT sales personnel to a smug patronising bully. And, caught between the two is Rebecca Hall as Robyn, who seems vulnerable, yet determined. With her simplicity, she manages to make her character too-trusting and believable. —IANS

The woes of romance
FILM: Slow Learners
CAST: Adam Pally, Sarah Burns, Reid Scott, Catherine Reitman DIRECTION: Don Argott, Sheena M Joyce

High school teachers Jeff and Anne (Adam Pally and Sarah Burns) are colleagues all too familiar with the woes of romance.
Desperate to turn their luck around they take on new personas and embark, with gusto, on an adventurous summer of uncharacteristic encounters. 
Slow Learners is a charming, comedic crash course in discovering who you really are. 
Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce get laughs from an idea that is little more than an extended sketch. But they get even more mileage from the way these goofballs’ assumed identities chafe against the truth of how they feel about one another.
The film’s brisk energy, witty visuals and sharp supporting cast together push an appealing but thin story idea over the finish line.

Heavyweight on performance

By Troy Ribeiro 

FILM: Southpaw
CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Oona Laurence, Naomie Harris
DIRECTION: Antoine Fuqua
Southpaw is a classic boxing drama of fall and redemption. It’s an inspirational tale of a damaged champ’s fight in and out of the boxing ring, where he struggles to outgrow his self-destructive anger in order to regain all that he has lost.
It’s the story of light heavyweight boxing champion Billy Hope. After winning a tough and ruthless fight, he is coaxed by his wife Maureen to announce his retirement so that they can have a peaceful family life with their young daughter, Leila. Billy agrees much against the wishes of his manager Jordan Mains.
So with his entourage that includes his manager and wife, Billy makes the announcement of his retirement at a press conference. During his speech, Billy is taunted by a young boorish boxer, Miguel “Magic” Escobar who hoped to challenge him in the ring.
After the conference, Escobar continues with his tirade. Much against Maureen’s wishes, Billy succumbs to Escobar’s taunts and reacts harshly, by grappling him. This leads to a tragedy that has a domino effect on Billy’s personal and professional life.
While Billy’s tale is engrossing, Kurt Sutter’s screenplay, definitely seems old-fashioned and one-dimensional, where every scene is constructed to show Billy suffering. It leads on to a sadistic pleasure of digging into Billy’s grim life with aplomb. The scenes exhibiting the calamities in Billy’s life seem unending.
There is no relief, no comic moments or any effort to alter the tone from grimness except at the end. Also, the screenplay misses out on some key scenes that would help in making Billy a more convincing character.
Southpaw belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal. A far cry from his previous character in Nightcrawler, a beefed-up Jake Gyllenhaal has physically and mentally transformed himself to slip into Billy Hope’s shoes.
With his posture, gait, speech, bruised face and flexing muscles, he portrays the character’s emotional anguish in every scene - be it in the boxing arena or when he is pining for his daughter.
He is aptly supported by the entire cast.
And at the end of it, if you wonder, why the film is titled Southpaw. Well, for the uninitiated, Southpaw is term used for the stance of a left-handed boxer, which is very evident in Hope’s case in the last fight sequence.
The film is light on story and a heavyweight on performance. Watch it for Jake Gyllenhaal’s histrionics. —IANS

DVDs courtesy: 
Saqr Entertainment Stores, Doha

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