Full marks to Chris Evans for a second. Dude basically looks like a prototypical action star, and appearing as Captain America certainly helps that along. But he also manages to do his fair share of smaller dramatic films which he turns in surprisingly good work on (he's been doing them more or less since 2011's Puncture). So in between all of the work on the Marvel films, his latest dramatic respite earned him some critical praise.
Gifted was written by Tom Flynn and directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer). Evans plays Frank, who lives in Florida, goes to the bar on occasion but works on his boat as well. But Frank's role is mostly to care for seven-year old Mary (McKenna Grace), who is a bit of a math wizard in the shoes of her mother Diane, who committed suicide when Mary was an infant. Frank decides he wants to put Mary into public school, and Mary's talents become visible enough that she is the center of a custody battle between Frank and his mother Evelyn (Lindset Duncan, Birdman).
The reason that many people would be in on Gifted is to see if Evans can pull off the emotional, heartstring tugging stuff in this film and he succeeds for the most part. Additionally, the other reason would be to see this blonde haired, blue eyed newcomer missing her front teeth in Grace and she shows solid composure next to Evans and in later scenes with the other grown-ups on screen. The chemistry between Evans and Grace in Frank and Mary feels genuine and has a shorthand that looks natural, and it was a joy to watch them early on in the film.
As it's a joy to see Evans and Grace either separately or together, the saccharine relationship doesn't overcome the bitter and convoluted ordeal that the characters go through over the second and third acts. Not enough time is put in for the viewer to have any sort of displeasure towards Evelyn, and that's before we get into the courtroom, where the laziness is put into high gear and storytelling decisions are easy ones, but they still aren't executed well. Borrowing from the story for a second, there is a formula when it comes to films that possess a similar background to Gifted. What Gifted does is tinker with it to the point where the answer is not only wrong, you are left to wonder how they got to such a final point.
To repeat, the performances of Evans and Grace are good individually and collectively, and Duncan is not bad either. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) appears as Frank's landlord and while she's painted as the closest thing to a family friend, it seems like we don't see her nearly enough as we should. Jenny Slate (Obvious Child) is the elementary teacher that wants to see Mary's talents natured and challenged, and her contributions are superficial to the story despite another fine performance.
It's nice to see the marquee names from summer blockbusters engaging in more challenging fare, and I continue to appreciate Evans' attempts to do so. But Gifted is more an exercise of the dramatic muscles from him with the hopes that they don't atrophy, rather than serving as a break for truly wider work. I appreciate the intent, but there are more flaws with that than in the execution.The Blu-ray:
Fox presents Gifted with an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation that looks very good. One of the better moments is when Frank and Mary are silhouetted against a sunset and the contrast of them against it is natural and has no DNR. Film grain is noticeable in the early classroom scenes where Mary is quizzed by the teacher, and when the film moves to a more formal setting in court, the blacks and browns are just as natural as the greens, yellows and oranges in the first half of the film. It's an excellent disc to watch.The Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround doesn't have a lot of fun to play with here, but it does the job expected of it nicely. Dialogue is as clean as can be, and immersion in more dynamic sequences (mostly the boat trips Frank takes the women in his life on) is present and effective. Some of the scenes in the bar possess the tiniest hint of low end fidelity to them as well. The disc proves to be quietly impressive technically.Extras:
The most substantial extra in the package that includes a standard definition disc and a digital copy is an HBO First Look for the film (13:32), which the cast and crew discuss their thoughts about the story and each other, how the director works, and the usual topics that an EPK covers. Next are a series of short featurettes, starting with the story (2:08) and thoughts about it, followed by "An Accomplished Cast" (2:06), "Inside the Equation" (1:57) which focuses on the authenticity of the film and the math formulae, "Marc's Method" (1:27) looks at Webb and his process. "On Location" (1:57) features praise from the production on the Georgia location, while 5 deleted scenes (8:13) are pretty redundant. A stills gallery and trailer (2:29) round things out.Final Thoughts:
Chris Evans' latest drama has moments where it's nice and adorable and makes you well up in tears occasionally, but it makes you go over obstacles that were poorly constructed to begin with and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The disc is a nice one technically, and the supplements are nice, but could have been a little more plentiful. If you haven't seen Evans do the broader fare before, this is a good start, but know that he can, and has, done better work in the genre.