There was a time when The Beaver could have been big. A drama directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson? Yeah, it could have been big. Sometime between the anti-Semitic remarks and the threatening voicemails, however, that opportunity vanished. Instead, the two stars can rest their laurels on this: The Beaver is a very good movie, and Mel Gibson delivers one of the best performances of the year - and his career.
In The Beaver, Gibson plays Walter Black, a depressed CEO who has the lost confidence of those around him, including his family. Oh, and himself. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Walter finds salvation in the form of a beaver hand puppet. The Australian-accented puppet is able to channel Walter's thoughts, emotions and energies in a new, unrestrained way, enabling him to reconnect with both his family and his company.
The Beaver isn't as strange as it sounds, but it is strange. Foster, who also stars as Walter's wife, treats the movie just like any other drama. As she should. Her drama just happens to star a beaver hand puppet.
The movie rests largely on Mel Gibson's shoulders, and the talented actor proves he is more than capable. The role could have easily transcended into absurdity and lunacy, but Gibson approaches it without utmost respect, delivering an engaging, powerful and emotional performance. In many ways he's playing two characters: the emotionally distant and mumbling Walter Black, who is coping with deep loss and unable to confront what's troubling him, and the Beaver, who tackles everything head on without concern for anyone else.
Though he won't receive it, Gibson's performance deserves end-of-year recognition.
The supporting cast is also very good. Foster is as always excellent, though, as director, she doesn't give her character a lot to do. More impressive is Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), whose up-and-down relationship serves as the film's primary subplot. Both young actors are excellent in their respective roles.
Whether you can forgive Mel Gibson for his off-screen behavior is not of my concern, but there's no denying that he has extreme talent. The Beaver unfortunately proves that his time in front of the camera may or less be done for the time being, but if this is his curtain call, it is a memorable one.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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