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Movie Reviews

The Beaver



Released: 6th May 2011

Director: Jodie Foster

Stars: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin

Certificate: 12

Reviewer: Matt Chandler

The Beaver is ambitious in attempting to tackle the subject of severe depression in 90 minutes. Watching the movie knowing the behind-the-scenes failures provided an additional depressing sheen, complimenting the film nicely. Written by Kyle Killen, the script was atop “The Black List”—a sort of unofficial list of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays—and caught the eye of Jodie Foster over three years ago. After going through potential lead options (including Jim Carrey and Steve Carell), Mel Gibson, a close friend and costar of Foster’s in Maverick, eventually signed on to the role of Walter Black.He hadn’t really been on screen in half a decade after his nicely-publicized 2006 DUI remarks, but he seemed like a good fit. Well, a couple of new rants later, and the completed movie’s release date was pushed back for months, the

$21 million production budget in the mix, not to mention years of labor. Indeed before it was released, the LA Times dropped an article highlighting the irony of Foster promoting such a movie: “Now a famously private feminist icon is in the strange position of making the rounds to defend a man who has become an industry pariah for his racist, sexist, anti-Semitic meltdowns.”

The Beaver was finally released. And bombed badly.

The real kicker in my opinion comes from how perfect Gibson is for the role. You can’t watch the movie without making a parallel to Mel’s real life balance of being extremely successful, but also an alcoholic with a well-documented bipolar disorder. Here, he plays a toy manufacturer, who, after years of family turmoil and personal suffering stemming from his depression, attempts suicide. A stuffed animal gives him a new lease on life. I reasoned that when you’re this rock-bottom, disconnecting from reality is necessary to even start to come back around.

Gibson’s acting chops were never in question, and there is real pain and sadness in this guy’s eyes. The movie benefits greatly from his gutsy performance. The Beaver has a rather silly premise on its face (more box office kryptonite), but Gibson sells every scene. He makes Walter’s swings from extremely depressed to vibrantly happy not only believable, but astonishing. I bet the real-life Mel kinda wishes he had such an innocuous way to separate himself from the likely exaggerated persona we see in the tabloids.

The movie is really about family, and how different generations deal with depression. There is a sparse amount of humor, but mostly bittersweet. Jodie Foster plays Walter’s wife. She is forced to go through her husband’s lowest lows, and then is happy when he eventually returns, beaver on hand, to rekindle his fatherly role with his youngest son. She is put through the ringer again when Walter simply cannot function without his puppet. Also, a slightly corny high school subplot unfolds with Walter’s older son. A bit contrived, but well acted all around.

The Beaver is strange, and some people (the majority of the population it now seems) may be unable to get past the very premise of the movie. It helps that the absurdity of a grown man talking through a stuffed beaver is stressed several times. Give it a try though because it’s certainly a poignant movie, and worth a watch simply for Mel Gibson’s performance.

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