*NEW* THE GIFT REVIEW *NEW*

TheGift
Joel Edgerton’s debut is a gift that needs returning.

Slow, dreary and dreadfully predictable. Disappointed doesn’t even come close.

A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.

That synopsis makes it sound so much more interesting that it really was.

Now I’ve been a fan of Edgerton for some time ever since his turn in Kinky Boots and Warrior. I really had high hopes for his directorial debut. A great cast do their best BUT you can’t hide a lifeless thriller with a surprisingly flat twist.

The opening got the ball rolling quite early. It set up the premise within five minutes. Couple. House. Creepy friend. Excellent. Let the game of cat and mouse begin.

The first half hour I was happy to allow the characters to develop. Always remembering that the inevitable was creeping around the corner. BUT by the hour marker, I was praying for it to come quicker (Steady now).

It was great to see Jason Bateman tackle a serious film for a change. I just wish he had a meatier role. He really excelled in the darker moments (which tragically there wasn’t enough of) and had good chemistry with Rebecca Hall.

Rebecca Hall is a very good actress but has this knack of featuring in mediocre films. Transcendence, anyone? She had an impeccable accent and carried the film for me. Lucky. Considering the film was very much focused on her character. The pawn in a very boring game of chess.

Edgerton was perfect as the troubled Gordo. The film picked up every time he appeared. To be honest, his numerous drop-ins at the family home felt like a minor inconvenience more than a stalkerish obsession.

I was impressed with Edgerton’s supporting cast. It’s just a shame that he didn’t give them better characters. Alison Tolman (Fargo) was wasted as the neighbour. It was extremely annoying because there was a strange moment in which Edgerton suggested something more suspect about her.

When Robyn (Hall) first meets Tolman’s character, she notices the baby is left crying in the back of the car. Hidden behind a veil. There was a slight Rosemary’s Baby vibe. BUT in the next frame, we have Robyn cradling the baby. It could have been a play on Hall’s paranoia BUT more should have been made of it.

How did Busy Philips from Dawson’s Creek get in this? She might as well have NOT been. Wendell Pierce was pretty much playing Bunk from the Wire. The same tired face and exasperated expression. Great for a Wire fan. Poor for anyone else. And he was only it in for 30 seconds and was completely redundant.

Eduard Grau’s cinematography may have provided a murky look to this supposedly “murky” thriller. But you can’t a polish a tur- turgid drama.

I’m happy to allow a slow burning thriller to unfold. If the pay-off delivers. The inevitable creepy tension as Gordo’s numerous appearances go from annoying to unsettling was too predictable. I could feel myself ticking everything off a check list. It was too formulaic. They have a pond. He buys them fish. They throw him out. He kills the fish. Oh no, they have a dog. What’s going to happen there?

It was inevitable that Gordo was a ticking timebomb. If anything Bateman’s reaction was more questionable as he finally lets his new guest know that he has overstayed his welcome. This is where the film did get a little more interesting as Simon’s (Bateman) past is called into question.

The cheap jump out of your seat scares felt desperate as the film continued to stagger along. I thought the shower sequence was merely a ploy to make sure the audience were still awake. Quick jump. Aaah! Right. Still with us? Back to the film.

The closing fifteen minutes finally delivered what I had expected from the rest of the film. A tense slow burning stand-off with the inevitable twist rearing its ugly head. And credit where it’s due; the twist was actually an interesting one. And I did appreciate Edgerton’s little nod to the Usual Suspects.

It did leave you pondering as the credits rolled. A nice touch. But once I got out of the cinema and into my car, I realised I had still wasted two hours for a mediocre conclusion and the revelation hardly matched all the mystery and hype.

Patchy at best but very disappointing for all the promise. Mr Edgerton, spend less time on wrapping and more time on picking a better present, eh.

2.5/5

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SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD REVIEW

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One of the best British dramas takes to the silver screen? Was it needed? Did it succeed? Or should the BBC have let old dogs lie?

I won’t hide my bias. I am a huge Spooks fan. It came around the same time as 24, managed to stand its own, and became one of my favourite TV shows. But very much like 24, it was never afraid to wipe out main characters, deliver twists and turns every week, tense cliffhangers and nail biting cryptic dialogue between fellow spies and high ranking officials.

It may have lost the battle with 24 but certainly lasted the war. 24 stumbled at series 6 and never really recovered. It improved. While Spooks only really tested me at Series 8 of a 10 series run!

The last two series did feel like old hat. What was hard hitting soon became predictable and a retread of stronger story lines from earlier series. I guess there is only so much you can do with a spy drama. But the final series delivered a heartbreaking and satisfying finale.

Four years after the hit series came to a close, we have a movie. A close that was long overdue as the show seemed to be heading down the road of mediocrity. A fitting ending that wrapped things up but subtly suggested that a return wasn’t out of the question.

So here we are. Did I sigh? Denounce the movie gods? Nope. I felt excited. My love for Spooks not quite over and after watching this film . . . I can firmly say it’s still not.

The opening sequence set the tone. Tension bubbling on the back burner. Even if I found the dialogue a little flat and cliched. Spies ironically playing the game ‘I Spy’ while the “cocky” CIA operatives chat up the only British totty (Tuppence Middleton) in the surveillance squad.

However, my little niggles were soon pushed to the back of my head (momentarily) by the introduction of one of my TV icons, head of MI5 security services, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

As soon as Firth entered the scene, the fan boy excitement was back. Offering a pillow to a systems analyst who had time to rest his feet on his desk.

It wasn’t long before something was afoot and we were thrown straight into the action as a terrorist (Elyes Gabel) escapes custody during a routine handover.

Racy, tense and very much in the style of the Bourne films. But let’s not forget Spooks were there first! They even threw in the infamous TV title sequence.

I will emphasize that the pace really is put on the back burner. It seemed to chug along after a promising opening and Pearce facing termination after making a judgement call.

The bureaucratic sniping and dealing with the “red tape” spiel did feel like the Spooks of old. Unfortunately, that meant it was dreadfully predictable. However, that was all relieved by some cracking performances from some old faces (Oh yes) and a lot of new ones.

Tim McInnerny (Blackadder) was superb as Mace. Just as callous and manipulative as ever. The introduction of David Harewood (Homeland) and Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) was a mixed bag for me. Harewood played the uptight Warrender perfectly. A weaselly two faced mediator desperate to keep both agencies at bay.

The only cast member that annoyed me was Jennifer Ehle. Normally I don’t mind her but what the hell was her accent supposed to be? Her twang (even though she was meant to be English) really grated against me. It was like she was trying to do an impression of the Queen. Terrible.

Disgraced, Pearce must look to the only person who can help him. The agent who he removed from MI5. Cue . . . No, not Matthew Macfadyen! I know. Gutted, too.

It’s only Jon Snow, of course. Kit Harington literally hits the ground running making a memorable entrance into the mix. Smashing through a cafe window to escape some Russians. Never found out why he was running? A passing comment would have been nice after an entry like that.

Harington was very good. The sulky scorned spy role suited him and he worked well with Firth. Their relationship may have been a little cliched (and strikingly similar to Kingsmen) as Pearce knew his father who died in a botched operation.

BUT it was still interesting to see their already fractious bond tested to the max. And yes, Harrington’s character knows nottthhinggg. One for the Game of Thrones fans.

Harington was the much needed catalyst to jump start this spluttering slow burner. Once he begins Borune-ing the place up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, I was hooked.

The airport rendezvous with Pearce was superb. Tense, suspenseful and every thing that won me over with Spooks the first time round. The numerous drop off points, the items of clothing with cryptic cards and the time frames. Brilliant.

At it’s best, it’s tense, dramatic with the odd shocker. But at it’s worst, it’s a little predictable and slow. The problem with Spooks is that you always know there is a bigger play. And the cogs are always turning. You can call things before they happen. That’s the problem after 10 series. It does kill the tension and some of the bigger reveals.

Firth was excellent as HP. Despite being integral to the plot, he does seem to be pushed into the background. A little disappointing. Harington’s Holloway is always at the forefront. Not a problem as he proves to be a worthy addition to the Spooks set.

However, Firth still gets his moment to shine and when he does, it’s great. After all the sorrow and tough decisions the man has to make, you really hope that there can be some solace for him.

I don’t think it’s a must for people who haven’t seen Spooks. There are a lot of new faces. When the old ones appear, you get the picture. I won’t say who, Spooks fans. Don’t worry. But there isn’t as many as I hoped.

And Guppy from Casualty has come a long way. Game of Thrones, A Most Violent Year and now this? He was brilliant as the maniacal Qasim. His American accent was impeccable. Take lessons, Ms Ehle. Tuppence Middleton showed potential. I just wish her character wasn’t so bland. But then again Spooks fans, who will ever top Ros?

The film may have been patchy but the last 20 minutes still had me trying to connect the dots. Even if some twists worked and others didn’t, the closing scenes still got me. And Firth stole the show, allowing HP to show a little vulnerability. Cracking his cold demeanour for a one moment before shaking it off and vanishing like a ghost. A spook. Proving once again why his character will always be one of my favourites.

The ending may have been ambiguous but it confirmed one thing for me. I’m still not quite ready to let Spooks go just yet. The film format certainly didn’t kill the franchise. If anything, it has given me hope. A few tweaks on the plot and pacing and I’m happy for it to continue. Cue freeze frame. Black and white.

3.5/5

Also did anyone else feel the title made you want to do this?