The Beaver

16 May

Title: The Beaver
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jodie Foster
Writer: Kyle Killen
Starring: 
Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas, Zachary Booth, Cherry Jones
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference
Runtime: 
91 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
63%

I was actually really looking forward to The Beaver, and I wasn’t going to let myself get distracted from the movie by whatever personal issues Mel Gibson had going on in his life, like some suggested was going to be the case with audiences for this one. Yes, I believe Mr. Gibson is a troubled man right now, and I’m sure he needs help, but the guy is a solid actor when he wants to be, and this film had Kyle Killen’s debut script which topped the 2008 Black List, the list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, it had the incredible Jodie Foster directing, and a supporting cast that included Ms. Foster herself, as well as last year’s Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin. So yes, if Mr. Gibson was going to have a comeback vehicle, I was under the impression that The Beaver would be as good a shot as he would ever get.

And, in many ways, it sort of was a comeback, at least it was in my mind. I mean, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s really really good, and Mr. Gibson gives a sincerely stellar performance in it, and not for a minute was I distracted by the fact that the guy is pretty much reviled in Hollywood nowadays. It’s not a comeback vehicle in the way that Iron Man was for Robert Downey Jr. or The Wrestler was for Mickey Rourke, but it showed a troubled actor giving his all to a role, and in Jodie Foster the film found its anchor, not only does she deliver a great supporting performance, but the way she directed this one is temendous, the passion she had for this project and the faith she had in Mr. Gibson, her friend, is beautifully on display.

But I’m not entirely sure what to make of The Beaver all in all, I mean, Mr. Gibson honestly is pretty great here, and his performance as a man battling away depression in a very peculiar way really does draw us into the film, and kind of resonates with the fact that he’s having problems of his own in real life, but there was something here that in the end prevented me from loving The Beaver like I hoped I would. I think there was just no real insight into it all, no real emotional satisfaction in the end to go with the performance given by Mr. Gibson, which may just be the best one he’s given in his career, a truly high-strung and combustible piece of acting which makes the film a must-watch.

The fact that the film got a lot of attention prior to its release not for the film itself but for the art-imitates-life parallels between itself and its star was a pity, and I’m actually pretty sure the reaction to it from audiences would have been warmer with out it (as it stands it has currently made just over $300’000 even though it had a $21 million budget). But in any case, if you can distance yourself from the fact that it would be so easy to compare Mr. Gibson to Walter Black, the character he plays here, then you might just end up really appreciating The Beaver. Walter Black, you see, is a depressed man, a father of two with a crumbling marriage and professional life who just seems to be an absolute wreck. But then his wife kicks him out until he could turn it all over and he returns the next day with this new burst of energy within him, and with a beaver hand puppet to which he insists everyone should address to when speaking to him, and which he uses to address to those he wishes to talk to.

Yes, that premise is a bit odd, but the script is just so perfectly and finely tuned, and Ms. Foster’s direction is so surehanded that it works tremendously in the end. If anything, I would say that the thing that kept me from grading this film in the A-range was the fact that it lost some of that apparent oddity and became just a bit too earnest for my taste, as I would have much rather have had it be a more witty and less straightforward experience. But the performances carry it on through to near-greatness nevertheless, Ms. Foster is perfect as the wife who’s just so confused about the circumstances of his husband when he comes back talking to everyone through the puppet, but deals with it as a way to have him back.

As for the younger performers, Mr. Yelchin and Ms. Lawrence, well, they’re pretty sublime as well. Mr. Yelchin is a guy I think is just definitely poised to be a tremendous actor. I loved him in Star Trek and in the New York, I Love You short he appeared in, and I’m just waiting for him to turn in his star-making performance, which I’m hoping will be on this year’s Like Crazy which got great notices at Sundance this year. He plays Porter, Walter’s teenage son who’s not buying his dad’s shtick and wants nothing to do with him.

Ms. Lawrence plays a classmate of Porter’s, who’s the school’s valedictorian and pays him to write the graduation speech for her and together they form the movie’s secondary plot. And Ms. Lawrence is really something else here, she obviously already had that star-making performance Mr. Yelchin is still looking for with her impeccable turn in last year’s terrific Winter’s Bone (which I ranked as my fourth favorite leading actress performance of 2010), and she continues her streak with The Beaver, she’s just magnetic here. And she actually has a supporting role in Like Crazy as well, so that film certainly seems to be shaping up nicely (not to mention Felicity Jones is the lead in it!), and we’ll see how she does in a big blockbuster with this summer’s X-Men: First Class.

I really liked The Beaver. I’m not sure I think it really achieved greatness, but it certainly felt just a tiny bit shy from that. Mr. Gibson’s performance is electric and he’s the whole movie pretty much, and he just takes this film through some very dark places that are stunning to watch. But the way it was balanced with the side-plot involving Mr. Yelchin’s and Ms. Lawrence I thought was unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, I just said that both their performances were terrific, and they are, they both really great up-and-coming actors with an honesty to their performances that feels incredible, and I really liked the story they played out here, but I just didn’t like that story in The Beaver. I think it belonged in an entirely different, though probably still as great, film, and I thought that as a result it degraded this one a bit. But nevertheless, this one’s pretty amazing on its own right, and if only because of the performance Mr. Gibson gives here, no matter what you might think about his personal life, you should totally give this one a chance.

Grade: B+

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