Regardless of your thoughts on Mel Gibson’s real life personal struggles, there is no denying that he can still command the screen. In “The Beaver”, he gives one of the strongest performances of his career in a role that may touch close to home for him. Everything in this film revolves around Gibson and it’s his mesmerizing performance that sells not only his character but the main focus of what his condition is doing to his family. It’s a painfully authentic portrayal of mental illness and director Jodie Foster allows Gibson to make this complex character his own.
Gibson plays Walter Black, the CEO of a toy company who is facing serious struggles with depression. His wife Meredith (Foster) kicks Walter out of the house after seeing his lack of interest in getting treatment as well as the terrible effects his depression is having on their two sons. Walter comes across a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and it becomes a channel of communication between him and everyone else. The beaver becomes therapeutic in the sense that Walter begins to gain a self-confidence. He begins mending fences with his family and even comes up with an idea that turns the struggling toy company around. But it’s all done through the mediator which is the beaver leading us to question whether or not Walter is progressing or simply developing a growing dependency.
While Walter is able to regain a relationship with Meredith and his younger son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), his oldest son Porter (Anton Yelchin) would rather he stay gone. There’s a huge disconnect between Porter and Walter and Porter’s greatest worry is that he will become his father. Their fractured relationship adds an interesting dynamic to the story but it feels underwritten. Sure, we understand the tension between the two but it seems that we have to do too much reading between the lines. Porter finds a little solace in an attractive but deceptive girl at school played by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence. We get some fun scenes between the two as their relationship is actually fleshed out more than his and Walter’s.
“The Beaver” sold me on almost every point and the performances really click. I love every scene that Foster and Gibson share on screen and it reminded me of why these two have such strong track records. I only wish that Gibson and Yelchin had more screen time. Their relationship seems to be a crucial element of the story and therefore deserved more time than it received. While this is a moving and poignant drama there are also several scenes featuring some really funny dark humor. It all works together to create a really solid picture that, even with it’s few misfires, deserves more attention than it’s been given.