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The Beaver

 

In what is an almost psychotically brave gambit, Jodie Foster has here resurrected a long-touted script by Kyle Killen (that was a fixture on the ‘Black List’ – the set of scripts with buzz that are in unmade limbo) called ‘The Beaver’ (a one-time mooted Jim Carrey vehicle, there but for the grace of God etc) and put Mel Gibson¹ in it. Not having been at the helm for quite some time, perhaps she was bored, or fancied a bit of high-wire rehabilitation? It is, in many ways, the ultimate leftist contrarian counter-intuitive headscrambler.

Walter Black (Mel Gibson), in cod-cockney voiceover (explanation shortly), relates his spiral into loserdom: he’s seriously depressed, sleeps a lot, is in a bad way, has been ejected from the family home. The left-behind wife and kids don’t seem to be taking it too badly: eldest son Anton Yelchin seems rather pleased that such emotional toxicity is at least at a distance. Jodie Foster and youngest son are less pleased but life without Mel goes on.

Meanwhile Gibson, in the midst of meltdown, and on the way back to the hotel after obtaining more loser supplies (the old emblematic standby shorthand for ‘in trouble’: a load of beer) decides to dispose of various overtly-symbolic family detritus from his car (he hasn’t room for his beer stash) and happens upon the titular hand puppet, which he retrieves and throws in amongst the bottles. Back amidst the TV drone terminus of last-stop hotel hell, and post drunkenly oblivious sloppy suicide attempt #1, the puppet, by now a garrulous cockney fixture on Gibson’s right hand, is busy reproaching him with pretty funny, well-delivered antagonisms, and narrowly averts more realistic suicide attempt #2, beyond which Gibson is a reformed, possibly deranged man, turning over an eccentric new leaf with the help of The Beaver. His business, in decline, suddenly thrives at the guiding hand of his new ventriloquial chaperone; a broken home is tentatively mended; things are on the odd up. Bizarre sex scenes come and go. Anton Yelchin isn’t having any of this, mind, and a concurrent companion storyline, which has his stumbling relationship with Amy Lawrence as some kind of analogous parallel, seems to have an obvious conclusion, which comes to pass.

Gibson, upon the arrival of his and Foster’s wedding anniversary, is coaxed into putting The Beaver under wraps: ill-advised, as Gibson is by now over-reliant on his possessive prop, until a gruesome act rids him of the by now murderous, indignantly marginalised puppet and a post bloodbath happy resolution prevails.

The performances? All very good, none more so than Gibson, who looks about 70, ruined, atrophied, believable. It’s his best performance in some time, and he possesses the kind of last-gasp vim you might expect of someone returning to rehab for one final stab at ridding his demons.

The main problem with The Beaver (it has many) is not, as you might imagine, a question of inappropriate demands of the audience, it’s quite the opposite: it’s far too conventional. What might well have been an opportunity to really do something thought-provoking and interesting is squandered at the expense of a tilt towards the box-office and hampered by mundane direction. On the one hand, Foster is asking a hell of a lot here: Gibson as lovable, maddened, afflicted everyman hitting the skids before an inevitably over-wrought renaissance. On the other: it perhaps should’ve remained a Jim Carrey-type vehicle, as I wouldn’t’ve bothered watching it, and it would’ve been exactly what you imagine, as opposed to a falsely-intriguing circus of a movie, replete with marquee, albeit empty.

¹  Gibson, whose recent hits include ‘You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it’s your fucking fault!’, ‘I own Malibu…I am going to fuck you.’, ‘Fucking Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.’, ‘Shut the fuck up! You should just smile and blow me. Because I deserve it.’, ‘They take it up the ass. [laughs, stands up, bends over, points to anus] This is only for taking a shit.’, ‘I need a woman, not a fucking little girl with a fucking dysfunctional cunt!’, ‘I don’t need medication. You need a fucking bat to the side of the head, all right? How about that?’, ‘I mean leave cunt, bitch, gold-digger cunt whore…and that’s what you are.’, ‘I’ll put you in a fucking rose garden you cunt. You understand that? Because I’m capable of it!’ and ‘I am going to come and burn the fucking house down… but you will blow me first.’ is a fine actor and director, who I do like a lot: compelling in Mad Max, great in Hamlet, brilliantly manic in Lethal Weapon. That he’s troubled, to say the least, should not corrode the back-catalogue. And he must’ve hoped that The Beaver might’ve re-railed his career. Alas, and whilst it may still turn out to be the unlikely pebble that calls forth the avalanche with a cult ambulance-chaser DVD afterlife, The Beaver sank without trace (£63000 dollars taken in the US at the last count; it opened in just 22 cinemas) at the box office, predictably tanking, snubbed as homophobic misogynist anti-semite drunks tend to be.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    The main problem with The Beaver (it has many) is not, as you might imagine, a question of inappropriate demands of the audience, it’s quite the opposite: it’s far too conventional. What might well have been an opportunity to really do something thought-provoking and interesting is squandered at the expense of a tilt towards the box-office and hampered by mundane direction.

    I went and watched the trailer before I read your review, and sad to say that what appeared in the beginning to be genuinely interesting then seemed to be taken over by sap. No doubt the performances looked superb, but your review confirms what the trailer hinted at, and I guess that in my effort to catch up on cinema I won’t feel bad giving this one a pass.

  2. September 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Trevor, wait for it on the box at the outside: it’s not entirely uninteresting but is certainly nothing to regret missing out on just now. I was hoping for something strange and difficult to unpick but it’s that worst of flops: perfectly serviceable average comedy-drama that couldn’t possibly have found a target-audience wise and so might as well’ve taken a few risks. For that, though, you’d need serious script reconstruction.

  3. September 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    ‘target audience-wise’ – pah!

  4. September 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I was going to pick out exactly the same quote Trevor did. A shame it fails not for being too ambitious, but for not being ambitious enough.

    No surprise that it flopped. It sounds weird and arthousy, which will put off the metroplex crowd, but it isn’t which will put off the arthouse crowd (who were never into Gibson anyway).

  5. September 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    ‘It sounds weird and arthousy, which will put off the metroplex crowd, but it isn’t which will put off the arthouse crowd (who were never into Gibson anyway).’

    Precisely, Max. Doomed on both counts.

  6. October 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    No..no…. cognitive dissonance… love Jodie Foster… can’t stand Mel Gibson…. aaaarrrgh! What to do?

    Brilliant, brilliant review – reading this’ll do instead of seeing the film.. right?
    Tc.

    • October 19, 2011 at 7:39 am

      Cheers Tomcat, but: no, you should definitely watch it and tell me what you think! Be interesting! Take one for the team!

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