DVD Review - The Beaver
Yet, I do want to be an open and objective critic, so while I decided to skip the theatrical run, I had NetFlix send me the DVD. I was thinking that I wouldn't be able to divorce the Gibson scandal from the performance, but, ironically, the scandal informs the performance and actually made me appreciate Gibson's work here.
Mel Gibson stars as Walter Black, the president of a toy company. Jodie Foster plays Meredith who doesn't run a toy company, but she does design roller coasters. They have two sons. Porter, played by Anton Yelchin (Terminator Salvation and Star Trek), is the eldest. He's in high school and has a crush on Nora, played by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone and X-Men: First Class). Henry is Walter and Meredith's youngest son, only seven-years-old.
Walter is depressed and is sleepwalking through this good life that he has. We never learn the cause of the depression. It is perhaps a chemical imbalance, or perhaps it's because his company's stock is losing value. We're not sure. All we can see is he's in the dumps. He's in fact to the point of suicide.
To cope with the depression, Walter puts a hand puppet on his left arm and does all of his communication through it. The puppet is obviously a beaver and Walter gives it an Australian accent. Oddly enough, Walter is American and for the first nine minutes or so Walter doesn't utter a word. There is narration from the beaver, but you don't realize it at first.
Admittedly, when the beaver speaks, it's strange and off-putting. It's essentially Mel Gibson talking to himself or talking to others through his hand. He becomes like a bad ventriloquist where you see the beaver's mouth moving while you also see Gibson's mouth moving. It's almost as if Jodie Foster, who also directs this movie, wanted us to have this disconnect with the beaver, almost as if she wanted us never to take it as real.
If you watch puppetry like Sesame Street, the name of the game is never see the puppeteer. The person pulling the strings must remain hidden. In the case of ventriloquism, the game is never see the man's mouth move. Here, all those rules are broken, so the whole experience is a weird form of Disassociative Identity Disorder or multiple personalities.
From that standpoint, this movie really is this interesting psychological destruction. Considering what got Gibson into trouble in his personal life, it's all too powerful to witness this personality, which says and does things a normal person wouldn't do. The puppet says and does what Walter either can't or won't. In some instances, it's a good thing, but it's also a disturbing thing mostly. It is him but also it isn't.
And, as in real-life for Gibson, he eventually has to distance himself from an aspect of himself. In that regard, this was a perfect role for the actor. Beyond the context of watching this crazy performance, I appreciate Kyle Killen's screenplay in that it takes this concept and goes all the way with it. He also takes it to its dark conclusion.
But, let it be known. There is a lot of humor here. It's black comedy that literally doesn't pull any punches or chainsaws, and it's all handled extremely well. One joke that may or may not have been intentional was that the beaver gains control of Walter's toy company. The name of the company is Jerry Co. It reminded me of the TV series Leave It To Beaver, which starred Jerry Mathers.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing content, sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.