- Vancouver, British Columbia - The Beaver has been called Mel Gibson's swan song by some, but the truth of the matter is that it wouldn't be the first time that this has been said of a picture in which Gibson was involved. Mel Gibson is a very talented actor and filmmaker, whose abilities have largely been disregarded because of his personal problems. However, in The Beaver, we see Gibson bring a fascinating portrait of man with his own personal problems, and no, Gibson is not doing an Eminem and merely acting out his own life.
The Beaver tells the story of Walter Black, a man who has spent the last two years of life doing little more than sleeping, as he has been decimated by depression. No counselors or treatments work on him, and while he is the CEO of a major toy company, he does practically nothing. He is a void of a man to his entire family, including his wife. His older son despises how much he is like him, while his younger son just wishes that his father would notice him. His wife, meanwhile, is holding the family together, but barely. Walter is finally kicked out and discovers a beaver hand puppet, and after a near fatal incident, Walter commits to talking through the hand puppet as a sort of negative disassociation personal treatment, and wipes the slate clear. Naturally, when his peers and family are told that they should be addressing the Beaver and not Walter, things get kind of awkward and amusing, but this is no comedy film. There are elements of comedic relief, but the film itself is a serious one. Things begin to change for Walter and his life makes several positive changes, but for how long can he keep up the hand puppet act?
This was a film that could've gone wrong in so many ways, but director Jodie Foster managed to rein in the film from going too far either way. Instead, we see a deeply insightful film about the devastating impact of depression, and the hopelessness that is often associated with the illness by the victim of depression and their loved ones. Mel Gibson does a masterful job of balancing the two characters that he is acting out on the screen at once. Foster decided to not have Gibson be a ventriloquist with the puppet, thus it adds a level of reality to the picture. We always know that the talking hand puppet is some part of Walter. But through it all, we see a man who wants to get better for himself, and also for his family, but is simply incapable of doing so.
Cast around Gibson was Anton Yelchin, as Walter's oldest son, Porter, who is ambitious and seeks to cast off his father's influence on his life. He seeks some level of normalcy, but his father seems to be continually screwing that up for him. Porter has good intentions, but is as incapable of his father of changing things. Jodie Foster as Walter's wife, Meredith, was well-performed. Foster manages to show us a woman who is continually trying to guard her optimism, as she doesn't want to suffer another emotional crash with her family. She desperately wants her husband to get better, but despite her best efforts, she is incapable as well. I was surprised to see Jennifer Lawrence in this film, fresh off of her Academy Award nominated role in Winter's Bone. She brought a believable portrayal of a head cheerleader, who actually possessed humanity and had her own legitimate problems. All in all, the cast was fantastic. It is a shame that with such performances, more attention is not being given to this film.
The script by Kyle Killen was smart, sharp, and crisp. I'm not familiar with any of Killen's other films, but I will be adding him to my radar. What Killen succeeded in doing with this film was that he avoided being heavy-handed. I've personally never been a fan of American Beauty, even if it won the Academy Award's Best Picture in 1999. In that film, the psychosis of Lester Burnham was sickening to the point that it was difficult to see inside his soul. In The Beaver, the connection is much simpler, which I believe is better. We experience a character who does not disgust us, but instead demands our sympathy. We probably all know someone whose life has been debilitated by depression like Walter, but I personally do not know too many pedophiles, or at least none that have confessed as such to me.
The topic of depression is handled with great care in The Beaver, and it deserves a great deal of praise for this. It truly feels as though Gibson used some of the insight into his own personal problems and channeled them into this film. I do not pretend to know Gibson, or the level of his personal problems, but this is simply my sentiment. The saddest thing about this film is that it will likely be ignored and dismissed by much of the Hollywood Press Gallery, simply due to Gibson having a role in the film. This ultimately is Jodie Foster's film, but I fear that many will make the mistake of avoiding the film because of their hostilities towards Mel Gibson. It is a shame that many are incapable of separating the art from the artists involved in it.
The Beaver is a film about man not only struggling to keep his head above the water, but one who is trying to get to shore; the current, however, has other ideas. Walter's son, Porter, has, like much of Hollywood, has given up on his father (Gibson) recovering from his problems, and thus thrown him under the bus, essentially wishing him dead. Gibson certainly has made some very, very poor decisions in his life (as has yours truly!), but like Walter, dismissing him as a man incapable of change does not solve the problem. While Mel Gibson used to be among the most sought-after actors in Hollywood, he has been reduced to finding whatever work he can after being rejected by executives as being unmarketable. Is he unmarketable? Perhaps, but with a film like The Beaver, it is clear that the man can still act and is able to bring a brilliant performance to the silver screen. I strongly encourage you to watch this film.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes