“This is a picture of Walter Black, a hopelessly depressed individual who becomes The Beaver, who becomes a phenomenon.”
When I first heard about this film, it was hard to keep the Mel Gibson story out of my mind. It almost seemed as if his casting was related to his off-screen situation. After all, this is a story of redemption, and there isn’t anyone in Hollywood searching for that more than Mel Gibson. But as I watched the film, it became surprisingly easy to let go of that baggage and direct all of my attention to the performances and character delivered by the film. And while a lot of credit goes to Jodie Foster and her exceptional job of directing the film, the real credit belongs to Mel Gibson himself who creates a compelling character who you just can’t take your eyes away from. It might be the best performance of his career, and it doesn’t appear that very many people will ever see it. The film was never given a wide release. It never appeared on more than 200 screens for any given weekend and made less than $1 million at the box office. Unfortunately, I don’t see it doing any better on video, and that’s a bit of a shame, I think.
Walter Black (Gibson) is, as the above quote describes, at the end of his rope. His depression has been a heavy weight on his wife (Foster) and two sons, particularly Porter (Yelchin) who is an adolescent and fears he shares his father’s condition. He keeps a wall of Post-its that chronicle the traits he finds he shares with his father. It has gotten so bad that Walter leaves. We’re never quite sure if he was asked to leave or he did it on his own. He ends up at a seedy motel where he attempts to kill himself twice. Both attempts fail, but he does end up unconscious after the second. When he awakes he’s being reprimanded by a beaver hand-puppet he found in a dumpster. The puppet speaks in an early Gibson Aussie cockney accent and promises to help Walter if he’s willing to leave it all to The Beaver, which he does.
Suddenly Walter’s life begins to turn around. He finds that he can communicate through the puppet, and the puppet can display the confidence that Walter can’t seem to find in himself. It works first with his young son Henry (Stewart) who finds The Beaver charming while the three (?) begin to work on some woodshop projects. Even his wife is hopeful, but she’s misled into believing this was all some therapy prescribed by an actual doctor. At work, things also improve. Walter’s inherited a toy company that has been struggling because of his inability to cope. But his success with Henry has given him an idea: Mr. Beaver’s Wood Chopping Kit. It’s a new product that includes tools, wood, and a talking beaver to allow kids to experience their own wood-working project. The idea is a hit, and The Beaver becomes an overnight sensation on the talk show circuit. But how long can all of this last?
There’s a wonderful B story that also shows Porter struggling with the same issues. He writes term papers for cash. When he meets Nora (Lawrence), he finds that she’s dealing with an emotional issue. He hopes to help himself, perhaps by trying to help her. It’s a rather nice balance to the Beaver story and keeps it from becoming something more like a tired joke.
“And eventually what seems strange becomes common. What seems impossible becomes real. Until things almost start to feel the way they used to. It’s like it’s all brand new.”
That’s the most interesting thing about this movie. On the surface the idea appears rather silly. And there are times, particularly in the early going, when you’re not quite sure if it’s appropriate to laugh. There are genuinely humorous moments here, but we’re reminded that it’s all the product of a tragic figure who is headed down a dark path. But somewhere in the film, and it might be different for each viewer, but somewhere you start to see The Beaver as a living and breathing character. That’s what I mean when I say this could be Gibson’s best performance. As the deadpan Walter he portrays a man truly lacking, or at least cut off from emotion. The Beaver, however, is a bright and cheerful character that eventually does reveal a somewhat darker side. Foster shows that she really does understand where the film’s strength lies and plays to it with creative camera angles that help to enhance Gibson’s puppet manipulations.
It’s not just Gibson delivering in the performance department. I was quite impressed with Anton Yelchin here. If there is a flaw at all in the pacing, it’s that we don’t get enough time to explore that part of the film. It’s also hard to compete with Gibson and the puppet. Yelchin holds his own, however.
“People seem to love a train wreck when it’s not happening to them.”
I can’t help but feel a bit voyeuristic watching the film. There’s a part of you that feels like you really shouldn’t be watching this, let alone be entertained by it. Call it morbid fascination, if you will. This is certainly not a great film, but it’s one you owe it to yourself to check out. Whatever your expectations, you will be surprised.
The Beaver is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. Foster does a pretty good job of allowing Walter’s dead emotional state dominate the visual design of the film. Colors are almost non-existent at times. There is a dark moody pale to the whole thing that virtually draws us into Walter’s state of mind. When colors do break through, they symbolize hope. There’s a colorful scene with a wall mural in the B story that stands out against the dark plodding of the film’s dominate image presentation. Black levels are solid and detail is quite good, particularly when we see the puppet in close-up or Gibson’s stoic face.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is subdued throughout, and that’s pretty much they way it needs to be. There is little in the way of score or surrounds. Dialog dominates here, and it’s a rather nice intimate audio presentation.
There is an Audio Commentary with Jodie Foster. Unfortunately, it sounds rather clinical. She never appears to be comfortable, and there is dead air.
Deleted Scenes: (4:53) There is an optional audio commentary by Jodie Foster. There are two with a handy play-all feature.
Everything Is Going To Be OK: (12:06) Foster leads this look at the subject matter of the film.
This is one of the hardest films to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it. It doesn’t fit nicely into any particular genre or market box. That left little room for it in the summer box office frenzy that requires an incredible money stream to keep it playing. I love big-budget mega-movies as much as the next guy. I look forward to some of them for years before their release. I can’t image summer or Christmas without them. But there has to be room for the odd film that doesn’t fit into that mold as well. I know what you’re thinking. You don’t think there’s much of a chance you’re going to like this movie. “I didn’t think so, either.”