The Beaver

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 3 Stars - Some Beef, Drama | Posted on 17-10-2011

Mel Gibson was a movie star. Not just an actor, but an honest to goodness movie star. I was made to watch Mad Max: Road Warrior recently and the man exuded charisma out of every pore. He was one of those rare people I just couldn’t keep my eyes off when he was on screen, he seemed mysterious and sexy and interesting. All the things I want when I’m sitting down to be entertained (take note those who keep casting Gerard Butler, who is none of these things, and less. Wonky, sweaty and grubby looking does not get this ladies biscuits tingling). He was box office gold too, What Women Want made over $182 Million, despite being poorly received by critics. The man was a charm machine, dropping knickers at fifty paces with one of his megawatt smiles and a flash of his baby blues.

Saying all this, I’ve always felt like there was something slightly ‘off’ about him, something behind the eyes when he’s being interviewed. He was married to the same woman for a long time and they sired many, many children. He’s a Catholic, and while I am loath to criticise anyone’s beliefs, he has publicly denounced the use of birth control and of abortion. This just doesn’t sit right with my personal beliefs, especially coming from a very wealthy man, who has little of the worries that plague us normo’s. He has proven himself to be rather a talented film director, though his projects are somewhat, erm, ‘specialist’… but things started to go badly wrong for Mel a couple of years ago. There were various reports of anti-semitism (Winona Ryder recently told a story of him referring to her as an ‘oven dodger’ at a party. He’s also claimed that ‘Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world’. How lovely!) homophobia and racism. The thing that really sealed it for him though was a relationship which ended badly, amid reports of physical and emotional abuse. I won’t go into the details here, all this is making me feel grubbier than Gerard Butler, but, suffice to say, his career was knocked sideways. I find it really difficult to look at him now without picturing his depiction on Southpark, which doesn’t bode well for suspending disbelief and actually enjoying his performance in a film.

Given all this, I wasn’t expecting much from The Beaver. I have a lot of love for Jodie Foster, but I’ve never been bowled over by her Directorial efforts, and I was confused as to why she wanted to taint her film with the stench of controversy and hatred that Mel brought. We open with Walter (Mel Gibson), displaying all the signs of full blown depression, overlaid with a voiceover telling us exactly that. This guy is at rock bottom, he’s sleepwalking through life, and dragging his family down with him. The voiceover is Mel, channeling a strange mixture of Ray Winstone and Michael Caine. Turns out this voice belongs to the titular Beaver, a puppet that Walter finds in a bin, and promptly begins to use as a tool to communicate with the world around him. It’s a bizarre plot device, and it could have fallen flat on its face, if the puppet wasn’t so damn CHARMING. Whatever has happened in his personal life, Mr. Gibson is still a bloody movie star. It’s heartbreaking watching the absence of light in his eyes, while the puppet jokes and cuddles and reconnects with his family.Jodie Foster plays Walter’s wife, and is, as ever, pretty fantastic. His youngest son manages to stay just the right side of annoying (I am not a huge fan of cute kids in films. I blame Jonathan Lipnicki from Jerry Maguire) and I thought the effect of his fathers condition on him was well portrayed. This isn’t just a film about one mans breakdown, it’s about the effect this has on those around him. It’s essentially a film about depression/dysfunction and the way it can be passed down through generations; Mel’s eldest son desperately wants to shed his associations with his father, to avoid meeting the same fate.

It’s an independent movie staple to try to depict mental illness through the prism of an audience friendly story, and The Beaver hits all of the beats you would expect. The soundtrack is pure whimsy and the puppet serves as a comical device which helps to make rather a tragic tale a little more bearable. In the end, I found it a little too fluffy to truly connect with, and I suspect the memory of it won’t linger with me for long. The fluff does ease as it moves along, but I didn’t ever feel moved or like I was watching something truly genuine. One thing is does prove though, for me at least, no matter what disgusting things he says/does in his personal life, Mel Gibson is a movie star. Though one we won’t get to see shining much anymore. Do I care? Not really, there are other actors out there with the same skills who don’t set my teeth on edge so much, but damn, this man owns the screen. If only he’d just keep his mouth shut (and his fists to himself) when he’s off it.

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