Get your mind out of the gutter; it’s not THAT kind of Beaver.
Contrary to some, I have a great amount of empathy for Mel Gibson; this compassion I feel for him isn’t because he’s famous, it is a compassion I would have for anyone who is struggling through the trials of life but appear to be crying out for help as they are falling apart. While most of us get to deal with our foibles in private, Mr. Gibson has had to deal with whatever his demons are under the scrutiny of the public eye. Seems as though the former Hollywood titan has lost his way and the industry that once embraced him has now shunned him. So it is fitting that Gibson would play the character of Walter Black in the film The Beaver, a husband and father who had it all, lost it and on the brink of madness uses an unconventional technique to rediscover the man he once was.
In The Beaver, Walter Black is depressed and suicidal. His long suffering wife, Meredith, played by Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs), is unable to live any longer with the shell of her former husband and asks that Walter leave their residence. While wallowing in despair alone in some fleabag hotel room, he finds an equally pitiful beaver puppet thrown unceremoniously into a dumpster. After drowning his sorrows with much alcohol, Walter attempts to take a final plunge and end his life once and for all. With his only friend, the beaver puppet, thrust upon one hand, Walter stands just one step away from his finality — then the Beaver speaks. This shocks Walter out of his stupor and instead of falling forward he stumbles backwards off the railing knocking himself unconscious. When he awakens, the Beaver is in full-fledged conversation mode; well not quite, it’s really Walter speaking as the Beaver, with a Cockney accent no less, saying and doing things that, as Walter, he had been unable to. Walter’s alter ego promises to save his pathetic life and, for a time being, the Beaver does just that. Soon however the cracks in this façade begin to show, which threatens the frail hold Walter has on sanity, causing him to take drastic measures to regain the life he lost.
The Beaver was in theaters for just a few seconds, so if you blinked you might’ve missed it. But don’t let that dissuade you from seeing this film, because it’s quite an entertaining little movie that is more than just some dude wearing a puppet. The Beaver is an amusing dark comedy that shows the desperation of a man who, for reasons never quite explained, is at the end of his rope. But that lack of explanation is what makes this movie interesting, because sometimes there is no understandable reason why people give up. The Beaver allows us to sit in our discomfort with Walter, without promising that there will be some tidy little ending; sort of like life itself. The movie touches on the relationships that are torn apart when someone is severely depressed and loses hope. The depression affects everyone they know and love, making their loved ones victims of this illness as well. Gibson is fantastic as both the defeated Walter and his alter ego, the brash go get’em Beaver. In the scene where Gibson is first ‘introduced’ to the Beaver, Walter is having a conversation with, well, with himself basically, and as you watch Gibson’s face change from the docile Walter to the very confident Beaver, for a moment you lose sight of the fact that one of the participants in this discussion is an inanimate object.
Foster is perfect in the role of the loving but fed up wife. She has to keep the family together while her husband goes through his breakdown, but you sense an anxiousness seething just under the surface which gives her this fragile quality, even as she musters the strength she needs to still love and support a man who is obviously very sick. Foster also directed The Beaver, and with a great amount of thoughtfulness, took a story that could’ve been a silly slapstick comedy and made it into a character study of someone completely falling apart and taking the painful steps necessary to put it all back together again.
Walter and Meredith have two sons who are also struggling with their father’s illness and they handle it in two very different ways. The younger son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart, 90210), just wants to be invisible, because in his young mind he isn’t visible at all to the father that is emotionally distant. While his older brother, Porter (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek (2009), keeps a record of all of his father’s weird behavioral eccentricities so that he will never, ever emulate the man in any way. Both performances are subtle thanks to the directing of Foster. In most movies Porter would’ve been a whiny annoying teenager, who was hard to empathize with. Yelchin portrays Porter as an intelligent, caring kid, whose anger masks the hurt he feels in regards the man he once admired. Newcomer Stewart plays a character that just isn’t some weird little kid who wants to be invisible but a sweet boy who doesn’t mind that his dad is donning a beaver puppet, because at least his father is now paying him some attention.
The Beaver is in 2.40:1 standard definition, just fine for your DVD viewing enjoyment, with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras include a featurette of the making of The Beaver, audio commentary and some deleted scenes.
First time screen writer Kyle Killen wrote a wonderfully warm story about a family in crisis, which also plays like a dark comedy. It resembles real life because life can’t be compartmentalized; as in the movie, we can have times of great joy and times of great sorrow all rolled up into one kinetic experience and Killen does a great job of melding the two. Gibson was a joy to watch in this unorthodox role; maybe those movie star good looks are gone due to some hard livin’, but his acting chops are still as sharp as ever. Even though he hasn’t had a good role since 2002 when Signs (Yes, I mentioned Signs; that is not a misprint. I happen to like that movie, thank you very much.) and We Were Soldiers were released. Since then his movie choices have seemed as out of control as his personal life appears to be. I have been a long time fan of Mr. Gibson’s work and I do hope that he can right the ship of his private life as well as his career.
Not Guilty. All I am saying is give Mel a chance.
The Beaver (DVD)
2011, Summit Entertainment, 91 minutes, PG-13 (2011)
VIDEO: 2.40:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH), Spanish
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes ACCOMPLICES: IMDB