Much has been said about Mel Gibson’s performance in The Beaver and how it might be an example of his artistic work channeling his personal life. In my eyes, Gibson’s off-screen antics should remain off screen, while his on-screen performance should be judged on its own merits. That said, The Beaver is an occasionally insightful look at how a family man faces severe bouts of depression. It works, but only to a degree.
Gibson plays Walter Black, a successful executive at a toy company who has a problem connecting with his wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), and his sons, Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). When he can’t stand the depression any longer, Walter does something that at first seems foolish, and then eventually is taken seriously: He comes home with a beaver puppet on his arm and proceeds to talk in a fake Australian accent as the person in charge of Walter’s body.
Everyone laughs when first seeing the beaver, but eventually the characters realize that this man is seriously sick and incapable of dropping the act. At the toy company, his co-workers can’t believe the development, thinking it’s a strange motivation technique. Cherry Jones plays the vice president working for Walter, and she needs to step in when the big boss loses his marbles.
At home, Meredith is flabergasted at her husband’s sickness, and Porter is embarassed and angry that one day he may become just like his father. To let out his frustration, Porter violently bangs his head against the bedroom wall, eventually breaking through the wood to the outside wall. The teenager’s only solace is when he gains the attention of the good-looking high school valedictorian played by Jennifer Lawrence.
The Beaver, directed by Foster and written by Kyle Killen, can’t quite achieve a consistent tempo. At times, it feels like we should laugh at Walter and the beaver, while at other times we feel like crying. Gibson offers a few powerful moments, but is also unable to offer a full characterization. Walter remains as much a mystery at the end of the film as he does at the beginning. This is likely the fault of both actor and screenwriter.
The Beaver is the type of movie that one appreciates for its daring plot, but can’t quite recommend. At 91 minutes, it feels more like a preliminary sketch than a well constructed feature. Still, one hopes it works as some type of first step toward redemption for Gibson, an important filmmaker and not-too-shabby actor who has largely been missing from the silver screen.
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