The Beaver Review

From the graphically violent flagellation of Jesus, to the Mayan ritual human sacrifices in honour of the sun god Kukulkan through to the shameless sodomisation of a helpless puppet; it seems there’s nothing Mel Gibson won’t turn his hand to.

The Beaver is Gibson’s first lead role since ending a self inflicted cinema sabbatical in a novel attempt to reverse his recent trend of grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons. Being a casual fan of Jodie Foster’s work, who directs and stars in this film, and a certified Mel Gibson phile, it’s fair to say I was excited about watching the two time academy winners combined talents unfold on the big screen.

Walter Black is a manic depressive toy company executive whose psyche is in a state of serious disrepair. He’s tried everything to bring back the fun loving man he used to be, the man his family still remember him as, but nothing seems to help Walter clamber out of the dark, dark hole he’s in.

Emotionally void, Walter has lost the means to communicate with his family and ends up neglecting them in mind, body and spirit.

His long suffering wife Meredith, played by Foster, gives Walter an ultimatum; if he wants to continue his path of self destruction and spiritual negligence, he should do so away from their children.

So Walter takes what he can and leaves for a motel, stopping off at a liquor store along the way and purchasing enough alcohol to incapacitate a giraffe. Upon throwing some rubbish away in a nearby dumpster, Walter stumbles across a beaver puppet in the midst of all the trash and takes it with him.

As Walter fails to drink his problems away, he decides everyone would be better off if he were dead and makes a pathetic suicide attempt before passing out blind drunk.

Upon waking, Walter is a changed man. Or should that be beaver?

Walter invents an alter ego for himself, manifested through his new beaver hand puppet, creating some distance from the negative emotions he felt in his original personality. Free from the mental shackles he used to feel be imprisoned by, Walter is finally able to break away from the anguish of being himself and even manages to have some fun in the process.

Now this Beaver persona takes centre stage in Walter’s life; with his genuine guise little more than a frail shadow in the background.

In a moment of inspiration, the Beaver designs a new toy that manages to save Walter’s failing toy business. The rampant success of this sees Walter swiftly thrust into the media spotlight, hand wrist deep in his loving puppet.

Seen as a maverick genius by the media, and an insane lunatic by his family, Walter becomes even more confused by this split in opinion. As he struggles with his mental demons, Walter questions just how sane he is now.

Most everyone knows how it feels to be depressed or isolated in life, its part of the human condition. And if there’s one person who can convincingly portray this right now, it’s Mel Gibson.

Gibson does a stellar job playing Walter, using his eyes and body language to cleverly embody a broken and depressed man who’s lost his love of life. Whether this is Gibson’s method acting genius or simply art imitating his recent life, particularly Walter’s problems with alcohol, is debatable.

Regardless, The Beaver raises some poignant issues about the debilitating effect depression can have on an individual; how easy it can be to mentally unravel and the effect this can have on the people around us.

This darkness that surrounds Walter is neatly balanced through using a hand puppet as a vessel for exploring mental illness, providing some much needed levity and comic relief to the serious subject matter.

In spite of these worthy intentions, perhaps similar to Walter himself, there’s something missing from The Beaver.

Jodie Foster does a fine job in making this heavy material engaging for a mainstream audience, but the rest of the script appears to have been neglected through concentrating on Walter’s development.

Running parallel to Walter’s own journey is that of his son, Porter, played by Anton Yelchin. Yet, in stark contrast to his father’s narrative arc, Porter’s characterisation is two dimensional and poorly developed.

Aside from providing some eye candy in the form of his hot cheerleading girlfriend Norah, played by the equally hot Jennifer Lawrence, there is no clear focus in Porter’s story to warrant its inclusion.

If Foster had taken a little more time to fine tune the weaker elements of The Beaver’s script, it could have been a really great film.

As it is, there’s only one kind of beaver I’d recommend spending your money on.

Kareem Ghezawi

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June 2011
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