By Gary “Chipmunk” Murray
Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence and Cherry Jones
Written by Kyle Killen
Directed by Jodie Foster
Running time 90 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Cable
Jodie Foster has been a household name for almost her entire life. The former Disney star has made a carrier as an actor and director, winning two Academy Awards. Mel Gibson is also a two time Oscar winner who has been more in the Hollywood tear sheets than on the silver screen. They work together in one of the strangest films of the year, The Beaver.
The film opens with Mel Gibson floating in a pool, blank expression on his face. He is Walter Black and he is in a bit of a funk. A successful toy executive and family man, he is still haunted by inner demons. These demons have caused both a stalling of the company and a marriage on the rocks. He finds a beaver puppet and just as his suicide attempt fails, he dons the toy on his wrist. It talks in an Aussie accent and berates him.
Soon, Mel slips into a split personality. He hands out cards that explain the puppet is a part of therapy and everyone must talk to the beaver as if it were a live entity. The beaver says everything that Walter wants to say but cannot. It also seems to be much smarter than Walter, winning both the affections of his youngest child at first and his oldest child eventually. The older boy only has one goal–not to be his father. The beaver in time starts to warm the heart of his lovely wife (Jodie Foster). Walter and the beaver come up with a new winning toy that takes the Christmas season by storm.
There is also the downward spin that the puppet takes on his master and the question arises—just who is in charge of whom? This is a dark film that breaches the issue of what is sanity and how far one has to go down the rabbit hole to come out the other side.
This is a brilliant performance by Mel Gibson. His Walter is a desperately confused individual trying to make sense of his world. He doesn’t try to be a ventriloquist with his puppet, there is on illusion. But in the talented hands of Mel Gibson, this piece of cloth becomes a viable and strong character. It is brash and crude but has more life than any real person on the screen.
That is the problem with The Beaver. None of the human characters are anywhere as close to the puppet for depth. Anton Yelchin as the older son doesn’t resonate at all. He is yet another teenager that doesn’t want to be like his father. The only interesting part of his character is that he illegally writes papers for others, being a kind of beaver character himself. Cherry Jones is a strong performer who is given very little to do here. As the second in charge at the toy company, she is the executive who knows that she should be in charge. Another ‘ho-hum’ character that pales to the dummy on Walter’s hand.
As a director, Jodie gets the most she can from Mel who is crafting two personas in one performance. As an actor, she just doesn’t bring her A-game to the role. It is more of a ‘being there’ acting job than being in a committed role. With all the awards she has received over the years, one would expect more both in front of and behind the camera.
The Beaver is a great performance lost in a mediocre film. It is more of a major redemption for Mel Gibson than a major comeback for his career. Some will call The Beaver the strangest role he has taken on and in some ways it is. But, it does show acting prowess that is seldom seen on the screen now days.