The new film The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster, is about a severely depressed man named Walter who, after attempting suicide, develops an alternate personality that speaks to Walter and the world through a beaver puppet. A story like this would be a hard sell under any circumstances, but throw in the fact that the troubled puppeteer is played by Mel Gibson, and you've upped the difficulty level significantly -- and maybe insurmountably.
Gibson's troubles started in 2004 with his absurdly gory Jesus snuff film, The Passion of the Christ, which implicates the Jews as doing Satan's work (in case you're wondering, none of the disciples reported seeing Satan walking amongst the Jews). Accusations of anti-Semitism were seemingly confirmed after Gibson's 2006 arrest for drunk driving, where he went on an anti-Semitic tirade against the arresting officer and made sexist remarks to a female officer.
And of course, in 2010, you probably heard the audio of Gibson spewing some of the most insanely hateful language you've ever heard in your life at his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, Oksana Grigorieva, who Gibson also allegedly smacked around.
So it ain't for nothing that I came into The Beaver (yeah, I said it) with a lot against Mel Gibson, because, to be honest, I don't want to support the work of someone like that. But The Beaver is a really interesting movie with some smart and intriguing stuff in it that's often funny, brave, and at times, refreshingly dark. Watch the trailer for The Beaver below.
Foster plays Walter's wife, Meredith, who's trying to figure out if the puppet, which seems to be helping Walter, is good for her and their family, which consists of their teenage son Porter, played by Anton Yelchin (who played Chekhov in the new Star Trek), and their younger son Henry, played by Riley Stewart. Jennifer Lawrence, coming off her best actress nomination for Winter's Bone, plays high school cheerleader and valedictorian Norah, who hires Porter to write her graduation speech.
One of the most welcome things about The Beaver is how it addresses mental illness as something that often runs in families, a prospect that weighs heavily on Porter, who is so scared of turning out like his dad that he keeps a list of their similarities stuck on his wall. The film's darkness also comes out as the puppet goes from being a quirky coping mechanism that helps Walter reunite with his family and get his struggling toy company back on track to a dangerous manifestation of full-blown schizophrenia.
Gibson does a good job in a difficult role that reminds you what a talented, committed actor he can be, and he's well cast since we know he has a crazy streak and probably understands why someone would want to radically disassociate themselves from their past and the destructive aspects of their personality.
The supporting cast is fairly good, especially Lawrence, who exudes a depth that's perfect for an overachieving high school senior with things to hide. Foster has a nervous intensity I wasn't crazy about, and the film should've spent more time showing what Walter was like before becoming suicidal and, eventually, the Beaver. But the film also makes an interesting statement about America's obsession with highly publicized trainwrecks and what constitutes insanity in an increasingly insane world, which are fitting commentaries on Gibson's life and his heir apparent, Charlie Sheen.
So was this enough to make me forgive Gibson for his transgressions? In a word: no. Despite his apologies, I do think Gibson hates Jews, and while I understand that his rants towards his ex-girlfriend weren't meant for public consumption, it showed a rage and ugliness that I've never felt even in my private thoughts. That said, The Beaver is kind of a fascinating movie with some interesting messages about mental health and a bold performance by Gibson at its heart. While I liked The Beaver, I'd feel pretty torn about spending money on it because of my feelings towards Gibson. But at a time when people have given Charlie Sheen and Michael Vick another chance, maybe America is in a more forgiving mood than I am.
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