Jason Bateman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Simon Callum in The Gift.
The old suburban set psychological thriller is being a bit dusted off here in that the genre's popularity seems to have waned a bit at least when compared to its prevalence in the 80's and 90's. As is often the case for this sort of story it does start simply enough with a normal married couple. Jason Bateman is already somewhat unusual choice to be even as the lead of psychological thriller, given his background mostly consists of fairly light comedies. To be fair he's often the straight man which might seem like it could possibly translate to the role of the normal guy having to deal with someone who seems a bit off. Bateman does not play it as his usual straight man and does not take his usual sardonic approach though. Bateman instead does a good job here of at first just seeming normal enough as Simon goes about with his wife in setting up his new life. His chemistry with Hall is nicely handled in a fairly unassuming way and the sense of their few years of marriage is well realized by both of them. With their great new house and a great new job for Simon everything does appear to be on the up until he accidentally runs into Gordo. Gordo though does not seem to be too problematic at first despite an awkward first meeting that leads him to come over for dinner.
Bateman's very good in these early interactions between Simon and Gordo. Bateman delivers the proper enough reactions to the man as though just to be a gracious host. There is the undercurrent of a certain unease that Bateman brings that could perhaps just be due to Gordo's peculiar behavior, but it only seems to grow whenever Gordo directly refers their old school days. Bateman carries this certain hastiness when Simon is forced to talk about it, as though he wants to get over with such conversations as soon as possible. It's not an excessive trepidation that Bateman brings as he conveys a man who really wants to simply keep the past as some pretty vague memories, nothing more. As Gordo continues to insist upon himself frequently appearing unannounced, Bateman only continues to grow a definite distaste in this. There is only a real disdain in his voice whenever he speaks about Gordo with anyone else as, Bateman makes it clear there is not even the slightest hint of affection in Simon for the man. Simon though still seems like a normal enough man dealing with just an unpleasant situation. A breaking point for Simon though finally comes when Gordo invites the two of them to a dinner party that only includes Simon, Robyn and their host.
At this point Simon mocks Gordo, when he's not around, and Bateman is terrific because of again just how much venom he brings to this. When it comes to the point when he's had enough and basically wants to tell Gordo to stop bothering them, it's a great scene for Bateman. Bateman does not allow this to be something easy for Gordo, because of how cruel he makes Simon as every word seems to purposefully try to antagonize Gordo a bit. There's a forceful pompousness that Bateman brings as Simon tells Gordo that there will be no friendship, and Bateman importantly does not make this a clean cut. Bateman instead shows Simon's method more like a rusty razor which instead of cleaning removing the problem leaves a painful infection. After this point the thriller aspects seem to begin as the Callums' dog disappears, and their fish, a gift from Gordo, are poisoned. Simon seems to adjust back as the normal guy dealing with a problem though, and Bateman is good by portraying the distress and legitimate concern over the situation. Things seem to quickly settle down with Gordo though and my favorite subversion of the genre occurs when their dog returns unharmed, yet it appears as though really Simon is not our average protagonist for such a thriller as even when Gordo's not around there's something amiss about his behavior.
Simon badgers Robyn over her use of pills that seemingly left her unconscious. A legitimate concern no doubt but Bateman makes Simon's reaction most problematic due an unpleasant aggressiveness. There is some concern there, but Bateman reveals something vile in how hidden any possible warmth feels in the moment. This side of him shows itself also at his work when Simon marks down the name of his rival for a promotion, as Bateman brings this horrible assurance that already suggests that Simon is planning something for this man. As it becomes clear that Simon is not merely this great guy, Bateman is fantastic because of how naturally he reveals this. He does not suddenly make Simon a villain or a different man, but rather shows the bad that was always there. Bateman does not make this something that randomly appears out of nowhere. He instead portrays this behavior as a personal defense mechanism of sorts as whenever he's pushed into a corner, or just has to deal with something slightly inconvenient this worst side of Simon's comes out. That worst side having developed when he was younger since he was a bully in school where his main target of torment had been Gordo even spreading a rumor which basically ruined his life.
There's an outstanding scene for Bateman as Simon attempts to set thing right with Gordo, but Gordo refuses the attempt at an apology. Bateman is excellent because as the conversation starts he genuinely shows remorse in Simon as he's trying to just finish his mistakes from the past. When Gordo does not accept though Bateman is equally good as Simon falls upon his usual reaction to a problem which is cruelty. Bateman makes it as ugly as it should be as Simon once again only exacerbates the problem by so viciously trying to put down Gordo. Bateman creates the problem of Simon so well as he can basically never allow himself to be inconvenienced. Bateman does not hold back showing just how terrible this is. When Simon tries to defend his behavior, and almost blame Gordo for his own problems, Bateman is so good because he does not simplify this mentality. Again Bateman finds a guilt in there, but he covers it up through Simon's usual self confidence that he can never completely admit fault. Bateman never makes Simon a hero or a villain, but rather a man with some severe faults. This works its way into the final act of the film when Gordo gives Simon one final gift that suggests Gordo may have done something heinous for his revenge against Simon. As Simon watches the footage of the act, Bateman is outstanding in revealing the sheer devastation in Simon as he has to bear witness to it. What's so remarkable about this is that Bateman is even heartbreaking in revealing what this has done to the man, despite what we already know about Simon and what he has done. This is a tremendous performance by Bateman, as he not only makes you forget his comedic work as you're watching him here, he also in such a pivotal fashion humanizes the entire progression of the story through his powerful depiction of a man destroyed by his personal flaws.