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Ten Word or Less Review – Someone save Mel.  He’s too interesting a performer to destroy.

Mel Gibson being insane or not, The Beaver never had a chance with audiences.  It’s a movie with an odd, off-center concept starring an aging actor with a propensity for losing his shit on camera and degrading religions and minorities when recording devices are within earshot.  I have no idea why Mel Gibson picks up the phone and doesn’t assume the conversation isn’t being steamed straight to TMZ.  And the movie is titled The Beaver.  The ‘Huh huh’ crowd still sniggering to itself.  It’s a shame because The Beaver is a nearly top-notch drama about psychological despair and depression, with a stuffed animal for a lead character.  Gibson’s performance is a highlight in a career peppered with award worthy work.  It’s a damn shame to see his barbaric temperament and hate laden rants derail the fact that the one time mega-star is still an awesome screen presence.

Gibson plays Walter, a man at the end of depressions ravages.  So complete is his despondency he is about to end his life.  His wife (Jodie Foster) has lost hope and thrown him out of the house.  His older son (Anton Yelchin) despises him for his weaknesses, cataloging them in an attempt to avoid them.  His younger son doesn’t know what’s wrong with Daddy.  The toy company he owns is spiraling towards bankruptcy.  On his way home from picking up a liver killing sized purchase of alcohol he finds a beaver puppet in the dumpster and plucks it out.  That night while trying to snuff himself out he dons the puppet in a drunken fit.  Right before plunging head first off the balcony toward sweet oblivion, the puppet speaks to him.  Waking up the next morning Walter finds two personalities living in his head.  There’s the despondent, wrecked, hopelessly craven middle aged washout seeking suicide.  There is also the Beaver, a no-nonsense personality who acts as the voice Walter no longer has the ability to speak with on his own.  The Beaver slaps Walter around, picks him up, dusts him off and before Walter knows it, he’s using this furry appendage as an ambassador for life repair.  But touchy questions remain such as, with Beaver speaking more and more for Walter, where is Walter’s real personality?  Is he going to return?  If so, when

Directed by Jodie Foster, The Beaver was sold as a quirky melodrama about a sad man solving his problems with a funny puppet.  And it is that, to a point.  The Beaver is more compelling than expected, fully embracing it’s peculiar story by not shying away from harder moments.  Really making the movie though is Gibson.  The 56 year old actor still has all the smoldering vigor and flare as a performer that helped define him, solidifying the crazy bastard as an iconic movie star.  Which if you stress your brain, or consult IMDB, you will realize was not that long ago.  Walter is a complete portrait of a man lost in a hopeless spiral from which he can’t escape.  His transformation into the Beaver could easily have turned into over complicated gimmicks and ticks, but Gibson simply changes his voice a notch to find the character.  Sounding eerily like Ray Winstone, The Beaver smacks of confidence and wisdom, channeling Walter’s lost insight and perception into a winning personality.  But as success and family life begin to right themselves, Walter slips further and further away, leaving his family to talk to an increasingly pushy puppet.

The Beaver is a strong effort by everyone involved but it has some shortcomings.  Walter is introduced to the audience at the end of his rope and we aren’t given much in the way of a reason as to why he’s so despondent.  He has a great wife, loving family, great job, so the audience is left to grab at straws as to why Walter isn’t happy.  Beaver articulates as much but something never quite lines up.  Helping overcome the lack of convincing setup is a cast who completely gels with Gibson.  Anton Yelchin (Like Crazy, Star Trek) notches another great supporting role as Walter’s smart, ambitious and misguided son.  A student who writes other kids papers for money he’s remarkably overconfident in himself.  Jodie Foster pretty much delegates herself to concerned wife but she does it well enough.  Jennifer Lawrence gets a nice supporting role as Yelchin’s cheerleader classmate, the kind she’ll never touch again thanks to Hunger Games.  The movie does right by its supporting stories and characters, not making them feel superfluous or phoned in.

The Beaver will eventually shock viewers with the unorthodox places it wonders into towards its final act.  There is worthy uplift and justified resolution to be found but at a cost I seriously doubt any viewer would see coming.  In an age where movies frequently take a soft left The Beaver takes a hard right and slams its audience around just enough to jar, but not throw out of the car.  When it’s over the viewer is left to wonder what kind of career the supremely talented Gibson has left as a performer.  Perhaps if he could go just a few years without threatening to kill a girlfriend on the phone, degrade the Jewish nation or otherwise seem like a disgusting human being, we might get to find out.  He’s  a man riddled with paranoia, demons and unabashed intolerance, and all of that wretched baggage has made him an unapologetically riveting actor.  I don’t know if it’s wise to applaud this  twisted actor, but boring is something I don’t think he’s any longer capable of being.


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