The Beaver (Empire DVD review)

BeaverSquareWhatever you think of Mel Gibson, whose personal and professional life has imploded so swiftly and spectacularly of late, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for his character in The Beaver, Jodie Foster’s third film as director. The two-time Academy Award winner plays aptly-named toy company CEO Walter Black, whose clinical depression threatens to sink his firm and tear his family – wife Meredith (Foster, who’s also done the Oscar double) and two boys – apart. After two failed suicide attempts, a despairing Walter turns to a second-to-last resort: a beaver glove puppet, prescribed by one of his psychiatrists, through which chronically-withdrawn Walter can express himself (in, for reasons never explained, a Sydney/Cockney hybrid accent) to his family, colleagues – and, when the film is at its most picaresque, America in general.
Weaving together a little of Lars and the Real Girl, a dash of Danny Torrance, and even a modicum of mad-puppet movie Magic, screenwriter Kyle Killen and Foster prove adept at handling the more delicate material, never shying from the tough stuff, while keenly aware that a single false note will cause a catastrophic collapse. Less successful are their attempts to shoehorn in an American Beauty-style substrata, concerning Walter’s eldest son (Anton Yelchin) and his ‘cheerleader with issues’ girlfriend (Jennifer Lawrence), each scene of which stops the film dead in its tracks.
However hard one tries, it’s difficult not to see pre-beaver Walter as post-meltdown Mel: a pale, deeply lined shadow of his mugging, wisecracking ‘Mad Mel’ persona, who didn’t know what bottom looked like – even when Martin Riggs was sucking on his own gun. Whether or not this was Mel’s intention – a very public act of contrition – we may never know; what is certain is that The Beaver boasts one of his best, and certainly bravest performances of his 30-year career. And perhaps, more poignantly, his last.


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