Monday, May 9, 2011

The Beaver

A very peculiar thing happened to me about halfway through The Beaver.  As I sat in the theatre, staring intently at the movie screen, I suddenly snapped out of a trance I didn't even know I was in.  I took a moment to figure out what the hell had happened.  And then it hit me.  At some point during the first 45 minutes of the film, I had taken a serious interest in the movie and its characters.  Simply put: I was, beyond all reasonable doubt, enjoying myself.

I preface this with certain air of skepticism because, well… take your pick.  It’s a film that stars Mel Gibson, who, at this point, will probably be forever remembered more for his actions off screen than on.  It’s called… The Beaver, which most anyone could have a field day with given its common association with the female reproductive organ.  It has one of the most unintentionally hysterical trailers of recent memory, and… you get it.  Basically, The Beaver had nothing going for it.  But I’m here to tell you (again, behind all reasonable doubt) that The Beaver is not only worthwhile, but pretty damn engrossing too.

If you haven’t been privy to the film’s trailer, or read a basic plot description, then bear with me, as I know how ridiculous it sounds.  Walter Black, the CEO of a slumming toy company, is depressed.  He pops pills, shrinks his head on couches, sleeps incessantly, barely speaks, and so on.  The dude is down and out, with not a clue why.  After two years of this, two major things happen: Walter’s unwaveringly patient wife kicks him out, and he discovers a puppet beaver in a dumpster.  Soon enough, he’s a new man, full of life with a toy beaver on his right hand.  He moves back home, regains control of his company, hits the morning show circuit, and so on.  But there’s just one minor setback: Walter can only communicate through the beaver, using an infectiously catchy cockney accent.  He refers to himself in the third person, takes it in the shower, and even kisses his wife with it.  Yeah, it’s weird, but it’s working, so… roll with it?

And that’s just the thing, if you as an audience member can roll with the premise of the beaver as well as most of the characters in the film do, then you should be good.  Me?  I decided to cut Mr. Gibson some slack and judge his performance based solely on his performance.  The result is, in no uncertain terms, rather astounding.  Gibson does wonders as Walter.  You can credit Gibson's faults as a man for allowing him to so perfectly encapsulate the paralytic nature of depression on screen, and so be it.  Who cares?  We’re here for the performance, and damn if Gibson doesn’t deliver a surefire one.

Helping him achieve this, exponentially, is his director, co star, and perhaps most importantly, real life friend, Jodie Foster.  As Walter’s wife, Foster arguably has the most challenging role in the film.  She has to play off Walter’s wavering philosophies, and do it in a way that’s believable.  Foster is the audience’s compass; if she failed, the film would have failed. 

Her role as a director, it must be said, is nowhere near as flashy as her acting.  Her camera work is sturdy, her music is helpful, her editing is precise.  Basically… it’s pretty standard stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, The Beaver is by no means perfect.  There are uninteresting subplots (the film spends a little too much time with Walter’s teenage son), and the script veers slightly off course toward the end, but it still makes for an enjoyable experience.  For example, there is a scene late in the third act, which I won’t reveal, that runs entirely too long and turns unintentionally satirical.  But, because of Gibson’s performance, the faults in the script are easily overlooked.

Walter Black is the perfect role for Mel Gibson right now. Should this end up being Gibson’s final starring role, well, then, it’s a hell of a swan song to close the curtain on.  B+

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