The Beaver (Blu-ray)
Mel Gibson talking through a beaver puppet with a Cockney accent does not sound like the recipe for success. And in the sense of moneymaking, no, THE BEAVER was not a success. However, that is just about the only area the film does fail because Jodie Foster directed a smart, touching film about depression and family with the help from some incredible acting by Mr. Gibson.
Mel plays Walter Black, a man floating through life in a deep state of depression. His wife Meredith, wonderfully played by Foster, tries her best to be supportive but siding on the air of caution for their two children – little Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) who wants to be invisible and Porter (Anton Yelchin) a senior in high school who has a knack for writing papers in the voice of whoever pays him. After Walter’s failed suicide attempt he is awakened to his problem in a very strange way by speaking through a puppet beaver that he refuses to remove from his left hand.
Clearly, how to handle the puppet was the trickiest tactic on hand. Choosing when to show just the puppet or just Mel in order to optimize the most dramatic effect with a tinge of humor is a nearly impossible feat that Foster pulls off perfectly. The key is to basically always show them both in the scene at all times. The purpose is not to be a ventriloquist act, which is not ever even attempted, nor to be comedic. The story is about a lost, depressed man trying to find a way back to his family by any means necessary. It is important that the audience never thinks of the puppet as a character either. In fact, we embrace Walter more as we see him finally begin to connect with his family through this stuffed extension of himself. The only time the Beaver gets a little more solo screen time is toward the end when Walter begins to lose himself more. The camera work keeping both characters in shot or not is like a well-choreographed dance that is carried out with natural movement by Mr. Gibson and Ms. Foster.
While Foster’s direction is spot on, the film still would not work without the subtly emotional performance by Mel Gibson. Usually a prankster and funny man on set and some past very public anger issues off set, Gibson goes against type by pulling off a sad, sick man with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. His character is so great because of his self-awareness of not only his problem but also his perceived perception from others. Few actors, if any, could walk the line that Gibson does in this film and still come off believable and likable.
The parallels between Walter and his sons are an interesting observation that was necessary to show how depression affects the ones you love. Henry is young and can bounce back easier when Walter tries to turn things around. However, Porter is a tougher sell as he has made a meticulous list of similarities between his father and him that he would like to stop – a sort of “not to do list.” Like Walter seems to be awakened by the beaver so is Porter by his relationship with the cool girl at school played by Jennifer Lawrence (WINTER’S BONE, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and next year’s THE HUNGER GAMES). While I like their subplot, I found their conclusion to be the weakest part of the film. I think a few tweaks could have tightened some of that story so it didn’t feel so forced. In fact, I felt that the ending overall lost some energy. It wasn’t terrible but it didn’t have the emotional punch that the rest of the film had.
To say THE BEAVER was a tricky film to pull of is an obvious understatement. There is a very thin line of becoming so silly and cheesy that no one could possibly take it seriously. On paper it’s a film that no filmmaker or studio in his or her right mind would want to touch with a ten-foot log. Thankfully, with the help of a brilliant performance by Mel Gibson, Jodi Foster tackles the project with care and precision.
Video: (1080p High Definition 16×9 2.40:1) A great looking picture with a crisp visual image.
Audio: (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The dialogue and score are blended clearly with perfect volume. I really enjoyed the music.
Commentary by Director Jodie Foster: Foster gives an exquisitely technical and emotional commentary behind the film. She discusses her choices and the actor’s choices in a way that helps understand the wisdom behind film better. She has spells of quietness but overall is a pretty good listen.
Deleted Scenes (4:52): Two scenes with optional commentary from Jodie Foster. She is correct in her assessments of why they shouldn’t and didn’t belong.
Everything Is Going To Be OK (12:06): Interviews with Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence discussing the film and characters.