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The Beaver (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

The Beaver

The Beaver


Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas Stewart, Cherry Jones, Zachary Booth, Kris Arnold, John Bernhardt, Michael Rivera, Jeff Corbett, Baylen Thomas, Matt Lauer, Terry Gross and Jon Stewart.

Screenplay by Kyle Killen.

Directed by Jodie Foster.

Distributed by Summit Entertainment.  91 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

The Beaver really had no shot when it was released earlier this year.

It is about a difficult, touchy subject: depression and mental illness.  The plot is not something that is easily summarized.  The subject is handled in an offbeat – to say the least – manner.  Just the basic plot thumbnail – a man who will only communicate through a beaver hand puppet – seems rather absurd.  It also is a very dramatic take on a premise that seems like it would lend itself much more to a goofy comedy.

Then there is the star.  Mel Gibson has spent most of the last decade tarnishing his reputation through alcoholism, anti-Semitic rants, a very public breakup of his long-term marriage and the ugly and violent dissolution of his ensuing relationship.  As far as his acting career, The Beaver is only his second acting job in nearly a decade, since he took a long sabbatical after N. Night Shyamalan’s Signs in 2002, only returning with last year’s Edge of Darkness.  In that time, he tried to segue into filmmaking, being responsible for one of the biggest (and most controversial) movies of the last decade (The Passion of the Christ) and one of the most overlooked and overblown ones as well (Apocalypto).

Hell, he lost so much clout in Hollywood that he was fired from a cameo role in The Hangover II because Zach Galifianakis did not want to work with him.  Imagine that, Mr. Lethal Weapon is in such a precarious place that some upstart comic can call the shots on his career.

Still, filmmaker Jodie Foster believed in the talent and deep-down goodness of her embattled friend and leading man, several times delaying the filming and release of The Beaver to let Gibson’s little peccadilloes fade away from public consciousness.

Gibson has rewarded her with his finest acting performance in years, probably even decades.  This performance is Mel Gibson the actor, not Mel Gibson the personality, reaching character depths like he used to in movies like The Year of Living Dangerously – before the cheesy blockbusters and buddy cop films put his skills into autopilot.

Too bad almost nobody saw it.  Now, with The Beaver getting its video release, the public apathy about the project does not seem to be changing.

Which is a shame.  The Beaver is an odd, often difficult little movie, but it definitely does have something of importance to say.  And through this role, perhaps, we get a little more of a glimpse into the soul of a man who allowed his personal demons to take him from Mad Max superstardom to humbled Hollywood pariah.

This is a pretty neat trick for a movie about a man who will only talk to people through a puppet.  However, somewhat like Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling a few years ago, or the volleyball Wilson in Tom Hanks’ Castaway, it seems there is some real dramatic tension in a grown man who is so cut off from reality that an inanimate object takes on a vital life of its own.

Walter, the main character here, is in a much deeper psychological hole than Lars ever was.  And Wilson, honestly, was just a coping mechanism for a man lost at sea.

Strangely, the beaver is also a coping mechanism for a man lost at sea – but Walter not physically cut off from the real world, he is emotionally.  Walter comes from a long line of manic-depressives – it is hinted that his father committed suicide years ago and his youngest son (Anton Yelchin) is also showing all the early classic signs of the condition.

Walter’s business is quickly failing and he has become distant to his wife (played by the film’s director, Foster), preferring to sleep than talk.  His depressive son hates him and tries desperately not to be like him, and the younger son is too little to understand his father’s apathy towards everything.

Walter is in a black hole and suicidal when suddenly he finds a beaver hand puppet in the trash.  He takes it on a whim, and later when he tries to end it all, he finds that he is being heckled by the British-accented toy.  He needs to make some real changes to get his life on track, and the beaver is going to take over his life.

Walter finds that he can communicate with people through the beaver in a way that he no longer can one-on-one.  Everyone realizes that they are one and the same (Walter’s lips obviously move when the beaver is talking), but the beaver allows him to regain the joy in his life, reconcile with his wife and rejuvenate his business.

Eventually, though, the beaver takes too much control of Walter, so just how far is he willing to go to break free?

The Beaver sometimes goes too far in its own eccentric direction and periodically makes some odd story choices, but that sort of works too with the extremity of it’s lead character’s condition.  It is a much deeper film than the central conceit even hints at.  Then again, if the worst you can say about a movie is that it has too many ideas for its own good, then it must be doing something right.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 23, 2011.

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