We may only be halfway through the year, but it is my firm belief that the remainder of 2011 will not see a more divisive or bizarre offering as Jodie Foster’s The Beaver (2011). This really is one of the most unbalanced, incohesive, disturbing, vomit-inducing, yet strangely captivating movies I have seen in some time.
For so many reasons The Beaver quite simply should not work, and in some instances, it absolutely doesn’t. But somewhere in amongst the madness and the cheese, there lies a genuinely interesting and touching piece of work.
I’m sure many of you would have shared my sense of shock, horror and disbelief when hearing the details of The Beaver for the first time. When it was revealed that Mel Gibson’s on-screen comeback would take the shape of an increasingly depressed, psychologically unhinged man talking through a stuffed, Ray Winstone-esque beaver, I couldn’t quite believe my ears. Surely this would be the final nail in the coffin for both Gibson’s reputation and his acting career?
Amazingly enough, it isn’t. In fact, it is quite possibly this performance as Walter Black that could put Gibson’s career back on track. While the controversy surrounding his personal life is undoubtedly going to haunt him and cause many to give any of his future work a substantial berth, there is no denying that when he is on this kind of form, he really does possess an amazing on-screen presence, bringing a beautifully poised sense of mania and fragility to an extremely complex character.
The risks of taking on such a role were obvious, and it this element of risk that makes Gibson’s performance all the more endearing. One cannot help but draw parallels between Black and Gibson, with more than a self-referential nod to the actor’s personal battles with alcohol abuse in the film’s early moments.
Although Gibson’s performance may be something of a revelation, The Beaver is still a far from perfect film. Quite simply, it is a movie with no fixed identity. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be Black Swan (2010) or Mrs Doubtfire (1993). There are moments – one in particular, which I will not spoil here – that are deeply unexpected and extremely unsettling. Yet, whenever the film’s darker elements begin to surface, Foster’s direction opts for moments of misplaced humour to break the tension. While some of these moments are entertaining, they only serve to detract from the seriousness of the subject matter.
Equally frustrating are the film’s sub plots. A painfully predictable storyline involving Walter’s teenage, super-intelligent son Porter (Anton Yelchin) and the high school cheerleader Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) results in a finale of eye-gougingly catastrophic proportions.
With regards to Foster’s performance, both behind and in front of the camera, she achieves essentially mixed results. Her performance as Walter’s long-suffering wife Meredith is impeccable, however, her direction fails to drive the film far enough into the darker realms of Walter’s world, creating a wholly unbalanced atmosphere to proceedings. With a little more thought and a little less fear of pushing the movie into darker territory, The Beaver may well have been one of the best films of 2011. Unfortunately, its desire to draw in a more family orientated audience ends up leaving the audience to ponder over what might have been.