Sometimes despite the best efforts of movie executives to steer a movie away from controversy, the actions of an actor can eclipse the actual film. There are cases where this can be overcome such as the success of The Dark Knight despite the untimely death of Heath Ledger through drug use.The Beaver was not one of these cases. The May 2010 release of the now infamous tapes of Mel Gibson unleashing torrents of intense verbal abuse on his then girlfriend had a severe impact on the movie that he completed six months earlier. As a result The Beaver was said to be “(put)… into limbo.” When it finally did come out in the middle of March 2011, it failed to make its money back. However, while these issues received much media attention, perhaps the most important question concerning the film got lost in the shuffle; is The Beaver a good movie?
The movie’s strongest asset is its portrayal of a person suffering from clinical depression through the plot device of having Walter Black, played by Gibson communicates exclusively though a beaver hand puppet after a suicide attempt following a mental breakdown. At first, this seems to be a successful way to elevate his troubles as Walter reconnects with his estranged family and turns his failing business around. In spite of these initial achievements, this odd arrangement soon gets out of hand (no pun intended). The titular puppet is a suitable representation of his desire (motivated by self-doubt and fear) to cover up his depression with a facade of happiness instead of actually confronting the causes of his mental Illness. The embodiment of this psychological malady can be seen whenever someone tries to bring up Walter’s troubled past or suggest he speaks without the puppet. The normally calm and jovial Beaver drowns the speaker out with a rage-filled tirade on how Walter was a suicidal failure before it came along and that being Walter’s proxy is the only thing keeping him from another emotional collapse, as Walter is useless on his own. Gibson’s superb acting characterizes Walter as the proverbial fish out of water, as his attempts at speaking without the beaver result in gasps for air and tearful sobs. The presence of the Beaver’s dominance is also felt though the cinematography by having it takes up most of the frame in these scenes. This verbal abuse becomes physical when the Beaver attacks him after he questions its necessity. However the film final message is a hopeful one as Walter eventually overcomes his inner foe, but not without paying a severe price.
Unfortunately, the tone initially seems more suitable for a lighthearted family comedy and the supporting characters can seem mundane at first. The mom (played by Jodie Foster, who also directs) is comically unaware that she is late picking up her son, the older son has the typical high school dilemma of having girl trouble, and the youngest has cutesy conversations with the momentarily friendly puppet. Thankfully these issues gain much needed depth as Walter’s damaged psyche is further explored. More of this earlier in the narrative could have made this good film a great one.