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Marshall Fine

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Movie Review: The Beaver

Posted: 05/04/11 12:25 PM ET

There obviously is more to The Beaver than its screwy concept and oddball script.

The elephant in the room isn't that beaver puppet on Mel Gibson's hand - it's Gibson himself, in his second film role since his career imploded in a spate of headlines about drunk driving, bigotry and other scurrilous behavior.

The Beaver is in the same sort of soup as Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, the film he released in fall 1992, just after la scandale Soon-yi dominated headlines the previous August. How do you review the movie and not deal with the personal issues as well?

Because an artist's work is not the same as his life. You can't honestly judge a movie if you're filtering it through a lens of disapproval about the creator's or star's life.

Two big differences, of course: Woody Allen did something that a lot of people do (strayed from his relationship, although, yes, he did it with his partner's adopted daughter), where Mel Gibson expressed hateful thoughts that many people find repulsive.

And Woody Allen kept working. Gibson, however, has only been in one film (Edge of Darkness) since his various public declarations of anti-Semitism and secretly recorded phone calls expressing racism. So The Beaver seems to have a lot more riding on it.

Directed by Jodie Foster from a script by Kyle Killen, The Beaver is an oddball film that is neither as funny (or weird) as you'd hope nor as serious or profound as it seems to think. It's actually about half a good movie, until it takes a fatal wrong turn into solemnity and mawkishness.

Gibson plays Walter Black, who is introduced to us as a man in a downward spiral - most of which has to do with what obviously is a case of clinical depression. His perpetually doomy countenance has finally convinced his wife, Meredith (Foster), to throw him out. Meanwhile, he's useless at work at the toy company his father started, which he's driven into the toilet.

So one night he tries to kill himself, a couple of times, unsuccessfully. But the last attempt puts him face to face with a discarded hand-puppet of a beaver. He puts the puppet on - and it starts to talk to him (in a gravelly voice with an Australian accent). And it tells him to cheer up.


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