The Beaver (2011)
Directed by: Jodie Foster
Premise: A husband (Mel Gibson) struggling with depression finds a beaver puppet and begins to communicate with the world through it.
What Works: The Beaver was released theatrically in the spring of 2011 after a series of very public debacles in Mel Gibson’s personal life. As a result, the press coverage around the film focused on Gibson’s personal failings rather than the qualities of the film itself. This is a shame because The Beaver is a very impressive piece of work. The premise sounds ludicrous and it very easily could be a laugh riot if it were not handled correctly. Fortunately, director Jodie Foster and actor Mel Gibson hit the tone of this story just right, indulging the lunacy of the situation but also taking it seriously and by extension making the audience take it seriously as well. Mel Gibson is a good actor and his work in The Beaver is among the best performances Gibson has ever given. It is a careful but energetic performance and Gibson is able to elicit tremendous sympathy and even a few laughs all the while hinting at the isolation and brokenness underlying his character. Something unique about The Beaver is that it manages to get below the surface of the lead character’s problems. A lesser (and probably more mainstream) film would give the character the puppet, allow him to win his career and family back, then let the character take off the puppet and live happily after. The Beaver goes in different direction and the dependence by Gibson’s character on the puppet gradually deepens to the point of creating new problems. This allows the story to go further and probe at the actual obsessions and anxieties that plague Gibson’s character. It also sidesteps the kind of false hope that recovery films sometimes inspire. In addition to directing the film, Jodie Foster also plays the wife of Mel Gibson’s character and her character clearly wants to go back to the way things were before. As her character eventually comes to realize that can never be, it is doubly heartbreaking for her and the rest of the family but it is also honest storytelling. This kind of mature filmmaking is also employed in The Beaver throughout an effective subplot between the teenage son (Anton Yelchin) and a classmate (Jennifer Lawrence). The relationship between these two is credible and like the main plot its skirts some of the easy conventions and established plot routes of this kind of cross-caste teenage romance.
What Doesn’t: The climax of The Beaver takes a few dark turns. It is to the film’s credit that it takes these unexpected routes especially when it must have been inviting to take the familiar routes of easy reconciliation. But viewers expecting the comforting sentimentality of a lot of family dramas will not find it here. The filmmakers of The Beaver take the end of its story down some dark paths that forces its lead character and his family to face their issues and make tough choices.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and a featurette.
Bottom Line: The Beaver is a very strong film with a great performance by Mel Gibson. It is rough in parts but those scenes challenge the viewer in ways that give the film its integrity.
Episode: #366 (December 4, 2011)