AccessReel Reviews – The Beaver

AccessReel Reviews – The Beaver

A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating. His mission is to heal himself and his family, but not everyone is a happy with this radical form of therapy.

If you’ve seen the trailer to this you may still be at a loss as to whether to take THE BEAVER seriously or not. I thought; surely if the studio can’t sell me on the trailer – it must suck big time. However, this film is so odd, it simply doesn’t benefit from edited highlights. THE BEAVER is something like AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) smashed together with MAGIC (1978); the latter being the film where Anthony Hopkins is a ventriloquist tormented by his dummy. 

Gibson plays Walter Black, the President of a toy company. His business is in the doldrums, he can’t communicate with his family and he considers half-heartedly taking his own life. Walter is damaged to the point where his oldest son Porter (Yelchin) doesn’t respect him and his wife Meredith (Foster) cannot bear to live with him anymore. Only his youngest child (Riley Thomas Stewart) has any faith in this burnt-out man.

Walter has something of an epiphany and invents a form of self-therapy, which involves dealing with the others through the persona of The Beaver. This character is “personified” by a glove puppet. From this point on, Walter talks “through” The Beaver and the world must talk to Walter by talking with the puppet. His family and employees don’t know how to deal with this strange behaviour, yet it apparently yields good results.

Meanwhile, Walter and Meredith’s teenage boy Porter is drawn to Norah, a girl at his school. He discovers this A+ student is not the person he imagined. 

Kyle Killen’s script for THE BEAVER was one of those well-regarded properties that did the rounds for a number of years before it was made. Some had envisioned the project as more comedic, with Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell being two of the names touted to play the lead. Jodie Foster, who also directed the movie, made the choice to beef up the drama by casting Gibson, although her lead actor still brings out the comic possibilities with his usual skill. 

Clearly, this movie is a vehicle for Gibson and this seems to be one of the chief reasons for the negative response that some have towards this film. Gibson’s well-documented alcohol-fuelled racist and misogynistic rants have greatly damaged his box office appeal. This in unfortunate for those involved in THE BEAVER because it is a better movie than one might have guessed from its promotion. This is Foster’s third outing as director and it is her best. Her artistic choices are conservative and this is appropriate given the offbeat premise. 

Foster brings out the best in her actors. In my view, Gibson’s abilities are constantly underestimated by those who only see him in his tough guy parts. The wise-ass Gibson, ready to deliver a beatdown, is a walk in the park for this talented actor. It’s actually in the roles where he gets closer to the dark stuff that he carries around in his head that this performer gets to shine. This is the case with THE BEAVER. He plays the comedy, but the audience also sees the pain and the desperation. Although Foster has received plaudits from some for “helping out her friend” Gibson, she is also working with an actor who plays the role of Walter Black to a tee. She is no fool and has her own career consider.

Other performances are very strong, too. Yelchin, best known for JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot, is excellent as the oldest son and Jennifer Lawrence (WINTER’S BONE) as the mysterious Norah, is also very good. Perhaps the only actor who doesn’t get the attention needed from the director is Foster herself. Her performance is good, but I can’t help feeling that it would have been even better had she not been self-directed.

An interesting sidebar to the film is Gibson’s “mockney” accent to voice The Beaver. Some reviewers have called it a Michael Caine impression. I thought it was too generic for that, but I did think I detected the occasional word or phrase where the actor sounded as though he was slipping back into his old Aussie accent. 

THE BEAVER is an unusual and entertaining film. It runs for 91 minutes and is in Australian cinemas now. I rated it 3/5.

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