FILM REVIEW: THE BEAVER
Directed by Jodie Foster, Written by Kyle Killen (2011)
POSTED 3:24pm | 08 AUGUST 2011
Alcoholic and depressed husband, father, and struggling toy company CEO Walter Black (Mel Gibson) finds an old beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and adopts it as his sole means of communication with his family and company after a failed suicide attempt. Slowly he starts to turn his life around, but more problems arise as it becomes unlikely Walter will complete his therapy and leave the beaver behind.
It's a touching and somewhat controversial subject to tackle - depression, alcoholism, schizophrenic delusions, and everything else Walter is suffering from - and the use of a gruff, no-nonsense, therapeutic beaver who speaks in a tough, Ray Winstone-like cockney accent is a reasonably zany way of approaching the subject. What follows, though, is a very intimate personal and family drama. Yes, it has those awkward comedy moments when people are forced to react to the fact that a man has a beaver puppet on his hand and is treating it like a living being with a personality of its own, but it's never overplayed and always treated in a realistic manner. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Walter is very sick, and if the beaver is going to help him get better then they go along with the absurd situation for the sake of his health.
Mel Gibson is brilliant in what is essentially the duel roles of Walter and the beaver, and the rest of the cast take a back seat to help maintain the focus of the story. Jodie Foster is very careful and understated as Walter's wife Meredith and Riley Thomas Stewart is very good as their young son who can't quite understand just what is going on. Anton Yelchin plays their eldest teenage son Porter who is desperate to remove all the similarities between himself and his father, and the secondary plot to the movie involves his troubled romance with the high school valedictorian Norah, played by Jennifer Lawrence. But really, the movie is all about Walter, and all the great character moments are given to Mel. I felt this actually strengthened the movie, as Mel is excellent, and there are no distractions from his performance, which really anchors the movie in an emotional reality.
Foster's direction is serviceable and sturdy. She doesn't try anything outlandish or attention seeking, and doesn't weigh the film down with any crazy stylistic decisions, instead letting the brilliant script from Kyle Killen and the brilliant performance of Gibson do all the heavy lifting. What she does best is capture the essence of the characters and the script well. She has summed up precisely what was needed for this film and delivered expertly. It's a very understated and realistic film, albeit hinging on a crazy premise, and Foster directs it with a deft touch and lots of care, consideration, and class. There are some very funny moments, but nothing over the top, and these are balanced by some absolutely heart-breaking scenes where the affect that Walter's illness and the beaver are having on those around him is painfully clear.
At its core The Beaver is a story about the search for redemption and the extremes people may need to go to in order to find it. Walter is a broken man who has done untold damage to his family and business life, but with the beaver on his hand as a shield between the people he loves and cares for and all the negative aspects of his personality he is able to rediscover in parts what he needs to do in order to become a husband and father again. The approach Killen and Foster have taken to the character and the story of Walter makes its emotional impact that much stronger. From the very beginning no attempt is made to suggest that this is anything but a psychological breakdown. Walter is shown clearly voicing the puppet, and even in moments where the beaver is taking centre stage the camera never drops focus off Gibson. It's a bold move, one that subverts audience expectations for a movie with this type of set-up, but one that ultimately pays off in the end.
I really enjoyed The Beaver and feel a little sad that it will be mostly ignored by audiences just because of the Mel Gibson factor. I think Foster, Killen, and Gibson have put together something that deserves to be seen, and in any other year would probably garner numerous award nominations. In no way would I call this a brilliant and amazing film, nor does the actual story reach the kinds of highs that it might of had it been made in the traditional Hollywood system, but I think it's actually a stronger movie because of that. It doesn't try to be more than what it actually is, a story about a broken man and his last chance to get his life and his family back.
Re-watch: Maybe in ten years