I don't know if The Beaver ever really had a chance to be any sort of success. For starters, it's a hard film to sell to audiences. It's about a man who suffers a mental breakdown and subsequently develops an alternate personality, which he express through a beaver puppet that he never takes off his hand. This would be a good setup for a comedy, and there are bits of humor scattered throughout, but The Beaver is very much a drama and a tragic one at that. Such a serious film with such an absurd premise is understandably off-putting to some.
The other thing working against the film is its star, Mel Gibson, who not too long ago had a very nasty voicemail surface, resulting in the public perception of him changing, possibly for good. People are angry and disgusted and not without reason. Moviegoers aren't exactly lining up in droves to see the man. Shortly before the film's release, the studio cut down its theatrical run by quite a large number. And although they denied it, there are some that believe it was their leading man's lack of appeal that was the cause.
So, with an undesirable leading man, odd premise, and seriously compromised theatrical run, The Beaver was doomed to fail. It's a shame, because it's a pretty good film.
I can't absolve Mel Gibson of his sins. He messed up, no doubt about it, and it will take time to heal those wounds. But while we're all mad at Mel on a personal level, let's not forget that he's a damn fine actor. His role in The Beaver might be his best to date. He plays Walter with startling effectiveness, balancing happy and sad, funny and tragic like a circus performer. And he does a remarkable job of bringing The Beaver to life, making us temporarily forget - time and time again - how severe his problems are, only to be slapped in the face with them the very next moment.
And the talent doesn't stop at Gibson. Foster does a terrific job both in front of and behind the camera, showing us a woman whose heartbreak is only outweighed by her confusion. Anton Yelchin, who is in my opinion one of the best young actors in Hollywood, turns in another great performance as Walter's son. Porter hates his father and is deadly afraid of becoming him, to the point where he keeps post it notes on his wall detailing all the ways in which the two are similar. There's also a fairly terrible secret that he keeps in his room, hidden behind a map of the world. And then there's Jennifer Lawrence. While she was recently seen in the critical hit X-Men: First Class, she really displayed her acting chops in the superbly dark drama Winter's Bone. While her role as Porter's love interest isn't as demanding, she still proves herself as a strong actress.
The Beaver is a solid drama that's elevated to great heights thanks to a phenomenal cast. And like him or not, Gibson is a powerful actor who delivers an intense performance.
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