14 June 2011
2011, 91mins, 12
Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: Kyle Killen
Cast includes: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones
UK Release Date: 17th June 2011
I’m not entirely sure who “The Beaver” is for. The picture’s offbeat premise and currently unpopular leading man will undoubtedly scare away multiplex audiences, whilst more thoughtful and committed cineastes are likely to be perturbed by the movies’ schizophrenic tone. “The Beaver” is definitely a film worth seeing once, it does after all contain some interesting themes and a remarkable central turn, but there are numerous fundamental flaws that prevent it from achieving greatness. Jodie Foster (assuming directorial duties for the first time since 1995) has put in a noble effort here, but the final result probably isn’t going to fully satisfy any specific demographic. Unfortunately it’s a piece of work destined to be forgotten; currently plagued by the personal life of Gibson, but not quite good enough to be rediscovered or cherished by future generations ignorant of his past indiscretions.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a depressed and suicidal individual, heading up both a failing business and a permanently unsettled suburban family. His wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) eventually caves in, requesting Walter to leave the house for the benefit of their children Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). Whilst planning to kill himself, Walter stumbles upon an abandoned hand puppet in the shape of a beaver, using it to create a cockney accented alter-ego. Upon his return to the family Walter lies and explains the puppet is a form of therapy assigned to him by a doctor, thusly alleviating Meredith’s initial hesitation. As Walter continues to channel his feelings through the Beaver, he once again finds confidence, his marriage and career outlook improving massively. However as time goes on it transpires that Walter has become overly dependent on his newfound crutch, leaving both his employees and a confused Meredith to become highly concerned.
Mel Gibson is tremendous in “The Beaver”, occupying two very different characters with dexterity and intelligence. In the guise of Walter, Gibson rarely speaks, communicating his silence through a series of fascinating facial expressions and occasional character interactions. From the outset Gibson is totally convincing, creating a mature and appreciatively underplayed portrait of a man suffering from intense melancholy. For much of the film Gibson has to slip between this drained personality and that of the Beaver, who is by turns assertive, charming yet also unnerving. Foster, Gibson and screenwriter Kyle Killen form the puppet brilliantly; channeling a whole half of Walter’s fractured state into the inanimate object believably. “The Beaver” may seem conceptually wacky on paper, but in execution the title character is consistently compelling and richly detailed. His complex dynamic with Walter carries the “The Beaver” through some less assured plains of storytelling, and that’s a redeeming asset which must be solely attributed to Gibson’s stunning contribution.
Leaving Walter aside, “The Beaver” applies a lot of attention to adolescent Porter, maybe even too much. Porter is depicted as an angst ridden teen with a keen distaste for his father, Yelchin filling the role competently but with few frills attached. Foster stretches herself too thinly by investigating Porter’s discontent, and by chronicling his relationship with a pretty but equally restless cheerleader played by Jennifer Lawrence. It feels like their relationship was needlessly jammed into proceedings, Lawrence is her usual sturdy self, but her connection with Porter never feels organic, and it regularly fails to service the main plotline. It’s obvious that Killen and Foster included it to help further characterize the people in Walter’s life, but it would probably have been better if more time was granted to Porter and Walter’s strained rapport directly, instead of lavishing attention upon a watchable but unwarranted high school love interest.
Foster is adequate, her performance in “The Beaver” doesn’t rank amongst her best work, but she gets the job done efficiently. Gibson and Foster have an effective onscreen connection, convincing as lovers who have become clouded by fear and tragedy. There’s a strength and commitment o Meredith that makes us believe she truly adores her husband, thus allowing audiences to accept her undying loyalty to Walter’s bizarre cause. From a directorial standpoint Foster might have made the film a little tighter, and should have questioned some of the blunter tonal missteps that plague the feature’s final act. “The Beaver” almost turns into a horror offering at the end, and includes a fight sequence which clearly aims for profundity, but is more likely to incur giggles. At one point Jim Carrey and Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”) were the creative team set to steer Killen’s tale onto screens, and one can’t help but feel the misjudged scene in question might have been an accidental leftover from their time on the project. It doesn’t fit well with the rest of the movie; in fact the entire last third is so all over the place it borders on chaotic.
“The Beaver” starts by focusing on Walter’s sense of self-loathing and emotional isolation, but gradually becomes more intrigued by his potential insanity. The film doesn’t conclude on a very uplifting note (albeit there are fresh traces of happiness in some cases), instead Foster decides to keep things grounded. She manages to stay true to the characters and their various woes, lacing the film with traces of redemption and forgiveness, but refusing to opt for a blatant copout finale. I suppose despite its numerous flaws “The Beaver” is a brave motion picture, willing to roll with its unique hook and traverse into dark territory. I doubt such courage will be rewarded with financial success or even a rabid cult following, but it definitely counts for something.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011