Directed by: Jodie Foster
Produced by: Steve Golin
Screenplay by: Kyle Killen
Starring: Mel Gibson
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cinematography by: Hagen Bogdanski
Editing by: Lynzee Klingman
Distributed by: Summit Entertainment (USA)
Icon Productions (UK)
Release date(s): May 6, 2011 (United States)
June 17, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Country: United States
Budget: $21 million
Gross revenue (as of publication): $923, 063 (domestic only)
Hey guys, still yet to see Kung Fu Panda 2 or Senna, but they are works in progress. Furthermore, the Strand has a whole slew of new movies coming in, including Green Lantern, Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids. Also, I have now seen X-Men: First Class, which will be reviewed after this movie and Swinging With The Finkels. I'm keeping pretty busy guys, and I'm thinking that I can cover all of these movies at some point in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes on this space.
The movie I've got here for reviewing is The Beaver. The film is an interesting case, not least of course as it features a protagonist who uses a hand puppet to help him communicate in the midst of serious depression. Also, the film is directed by the great Jodie Foster, one of my favourite actresses, who I inducted into my film Hall Of Fame in the 3rd Best And Worst of the Year. However, it is unquestionable that the reason that the movie is most notable is because it is the first theatrically-released role of Mel Gibson since the emergence of his phone calls to his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. I went to see this film on a double-bill (followed by Swinging With The Finkels) with my good friend and fellow film critic Daniel Kelly, who wrote a very funny review for the film on his blog at Danland Movies. As someone who has always tried to defend Mel Gibson even when he makes a tool of himself, I went in with an open heart and mind.
Once again, Mad Mel did not disappoint. Daniel Kelly was not a fan of his previous movie Edge Of Darkness, and while it wasn't that good, I think it is a decent enough flick, and Mel's presence gives a nuts-and-bolts thriller some credibility. Gibson's performance in The Beaver, while perhaps not adding to the credibility of his offscreen self, adds credibility to a bold concept. Moving seamlessly between what are essentially two different performances, Gibson creates a fascinating and legitimately believable character in Walter Black. Effectively mute, The Beaver, with his mock Cockney accent, becomes Walter's voice, and Gibson's performance never feels inappropriate or overdone. It is work of great skill, and proof of his talent when tapped into. Kyle Killen's script is part of the reason why the character's are so well-written. Despite Gibson's Walter Black taking the lead, Foster and Yelchin are able to deliver solid performances because of the fact that their characters are so well-written. Importantly, the film is very funny in parts and understands the absurdity of a man using a hand puppet to communicate with the world. Finally, Jodie Foster manages for the most part to keep control of a movie that could have been all over the place and rather hideous. She clearly has a brain on her head and knows how to make the right decisions for a movie of this type. Also, I must say that the animation/manipulation of the hand puppet is utilised rather well. It does importantly in narrative terms feel like a separate character as opposed to an extension of Walter. If the puppet didn't work, the movie wouldn't, but it is not like distracts, and we do accept and embrace this hand puppet/concept as legitimate.
While there is no question that Kyle Killen knows how to write dialogue, characters and humour, his script has a lot of tonal problems and suffers from an identity crisis which is similar to that of but far less bothersome than that of Cedar Rapids. My problem does not emerge from it being a 'dramedy,' I love some of Alexander Payne's stuff and Anton Chekhov is one of my favourite authors so this is not an issue. Like Cedar Rapids, it lacks consistency and jumps too freely between genre instead of trying to make a hybrid entity. There are subgenres of comedy, such as black, absurdo and whimsical explored, and of course we have drama, but there are scenes, particularly reflected in Walter's own identity crisis where the film becomes a borderline horror film. These scenes end up dwarfing the seriousness of the scenes that follow and makes the film ultimately seem anticlimactic. Also, I think that the subplot between Walter's son Porter and Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) comes across as flat and distracting from the central story. It seems as though it was written for another movie. As mentioned, while I think Jodie Foster does a really good job, I feel that she really should have dug deeper and cracked the whip on Killen. It is easy with hindsight to say, now that it is onscreen and you don't get this benefit while writing, but I would have been having Killen re-write the film at least twice more, because the script, while good, certainly needs work.
The Beaver undoubtedly suffers from the same identity crisis that it's main character Walter Black suffers from. Tonally, it jumps too freely from different types of comedy and once it reaches a borderline horror film it becomes the absurd film that it stays away from for the most part. Also, the subplot of Porter and Norah doesn't work and have the strength that it requires, and just serves to distract from the central story. Foster really should have clamped down on this script, although she does seem to take control of the absurdity for the most part and still bring in a very good film. She directs Killen's script with emphasis on strong dialogue and characterisation, enabling good performances from herself and Yelchin. However, the viewfinder is on Mel Gibson, who delivers a performance that is worthy of the talents that he does possess. Although it is hard to forgive, I hope that people will open their eyes to Gibson again as a legitimately good performer on the basis of this role. He guides this movie with a part that is both funny and poignant, and ensures that The Beaver, while not a great movie, is at the least a very enjoyable comedy.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.1/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Glad to see Mel being good (P.S. When could we see a new directorial feature?)