Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: Jodie Foster
In Jodie Foster's latest film, her protagonist, Walter Black (Mel Gibson, above), presides over a toy manufacturing firm called Jerry Co - which sounds like Jericho, the Palestinian city that lays claim to being the lowest lying city in the world. That's perhaps intentional, as Foster tries to illustrate the depths Black is mired in as his deteriorating mental health causes his professional and private lives to unravel. But The Beaver resembles Jericho in another sense - the film's foundations are as flimsy as the city walls that crumbled at the sound of trumpets in the biblical battle.
The problem with the film is multifold, and Gibson is at the heart of it all. Not that his turn as Black is disastrous - it's an understated performance that, in any other circumstances, would have earned appreciative nods - but Foster seems to have trodden too carefully in shaping the character so as to distance her star (and good friend) from his self-combusting traits in real life.
When the film begins, Black's marriage to Meredith (played by Foster) appears to be irreparable, and his son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is so disgusted with his father that his main obsession is to rid himself of the similarities he shares with his father.
What makes Walter so loathsome, however, is hardly addressed. As it stands, it's as if The Beaver begins with the second act of a three-act play, the introductory act establishing Walter's obnoxious personality having been excised. It would be even more problematic if Walter were simply pathologically depressed: his condition should have generated empathy from his family, rather than the wrath meted out by Porter and Meredith.
That Walter redeems himself in the eyes of his family and underlings by using a beaver hand-puppet to express himself remains as unconvincing as many of the other threads in the film: Foster and her screenwriter, Kyle Killen, have delivered a piece that is completely devoid of a realistic view of how modern business and mass media work. If the puppet is described - in a note Walter himself writes - as placing 'a psychological distance between him and negative aspects of his personality', the whole premise also alienates the viewer by creating a gulf from what is generally seen as normal human behaviour.
The Beaver being her first directorial effort in 16 years, Foster seems to want to make up for lost time. The result is a sprawling film with red-herring sub-plots, undercooked subtexts and, most damagingly, a sudden twist that lands the film in psychological horror territory - a turn of events that, typically, is not properly milked for what it's worth but embodies the confusion that mirrors Walter's/ Gibson's predicaments.
The Beaver opens today