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THE BEAVER - review ★★★

The second return to the movie screen for everyone’s favourite - Mad Mel - unsurprisingly failed abysmally at the cinema on it’s US release, apparently scraping something like just under 100 thousand from a budget of 21 million in box office. Do I give a shit about these stats? Not in the least. Do the studios? Who cares…

That the movie is a well made, very intelligent and thought provoking story about the effects of clinical depression and the way in which an individual might attempt to deal with it - held together by an unbelievable central performance from Gibson - proves yet again just how moronic movie audience’s have become in this era. Preferring to help utter dross and bullshit sequels (I have no desire to name them here) reach the 200 mill mark, helping the asshole studios to make tonnes more cash with which to then throw into the next piece of worthless effects driven garbage, movies concentrating on real life themes, interesting characterisation and old school storytelling with a pulse get kicked to the curb and forgotten about.

Luckily though, all that’s for nothing when you account for the fact that those with a brain and a desire to see something resembling a movie with an actual coherent plot, know what to expect from the pedigree of Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson above the title, seek it out and thoroughly enjoy what the film makers have delivered.

THE PLAYERS

Now Jodie as director I can take it or leave it. Being this her only third directional project since her feature debut LITTLE MAN TATE twenty years ago, I wasn’t expecting anything special or flashy or groundbreaking. I just knew she would deliver the goods adequately and no doubt get good performances out of her cast. Jodie the actress however, I dig a lot. From seeing her for the first time one late night on my crappy old 14 inch box TV, playing the character of an oddball teenager obsessed with fucking jocks, hot girls, and her brother, in the crazy ass movie HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, through to more recent work like the very underrated PANIC ROOM, she has always come across as 100% professional, up for taking risks and a lot of fun to work alongside. Gotta say her involvement in the upcoming science fiction film ELYSIUM directed by DISTRICT 9’s Neill Blomkamp has me hoping for very good things…

Pulling in her long time good friend and fellow actor from their days shooting MAVERICK, it was obvious Jodie knew what kind of emotional performance she could get out of Gibson, as many talented director’s have in the past, resting pretty much the entire story on his shoulders and allowing him to do what he does so well - delivering an emotionally cracked, dark, disjointed and haunted human being - desperately trying to get to grips with his depressive illness and not lose his family in the process.

While the actor playing the younger son was very good in the scenes he shared with Gibson, it was the role of the older son - played by STAR TREK’s Chekov, Anton Yelchin - who was allowed a more emotional arc to his character, here dealing with the hate and contempt he has for his father and his attempts to distance himself from any similarities he shares with him, while at the same time experiencing a new relationship with the cute girl from school - played by the very talented WINTER’S BONE actress, Jennifer Lawrence. Both did, I think, very good work in a storyline that I actually cared about that never got in the way of the central focus of the film.

While Jodie of course plays Mel’s wife with ease, in a couple of scenes showing real anguish at her desire to see her husband return from the walking husk he has become, it was in her direction of the film, the understanding of her actors and what they needed to bring to play and the subtle mix of both sadness and humour throughout, where she really got to shine.

And what of Mel’s portrayal of the man with the Beaver for a hand? Just how good is he really? Well like his work in the recent EDGE OF DARKNESS - this guy totally can do no wrong. Pretty much the reason why I knew I wanted to check this film out - he gives yet another outstanding performance, showing the crowds just why he really fucking is one of the best movie stars around. For me as I’ve said before, he has always been awesome, but when you dig on someone’s body of work this much, and then you watch something new and he surprises you with just how good he can be - it really is refreshing. Going from a man fighting his inner demons and contemplating ending it all - to then finding a way to distance himself emotionally from the pain with the use of the beaver puppet and find a new voice (a spot on holy shit that’s good Ray Winstone impersonation) - that brings both humour and a mental instability to proceedings, Gibson is seriously compelling. Switching back and forth between the character of Walter Black and that of the inanimate object on the end of his arm with ease - making you at times completely believe the beaver to be an almost living and breathing creature - the scenes are surprisingly effective, helped along by Mel’s subtle changes in expression and obvious acting skills. It’s a raw, honest, charmingly tortured performance that only a movie star of his calibre could pull off so convincingly and I truly believe it woulda been an academy award contender if not in light of recent events resulting in the assholes of Hollywood turning their backs on him.

THE WRAP UP

Hearing that the script was once part of the list of great unproduced screenplays and was gearing towards a Steve Carell wacky black comedy vehicle, I can only thank fuck that for whatever reason it wasn’t green lit and ended up in the more than capable hands of Foster, who jettisoned the laughter elements to concentrate on a much deeper, darker and altogether more interesting character driven psychodrama.

In another summer of badly executed overhyped spectacle ‘crowd pleasers’ that are both pointless and derivative, it’s always welcome to catch something that has an intelligence, a heart and strong engaging characters. With thoughtful and restrained direction by Foster and a powerhouse central performance by Gibson this was a tight little movie that deserves to be seen.

Recommended for sure.

BEST BIT:

As we start to see scraps of Gibson’s tortured mind fragmenting - the scene when his split personality comes to the fore as the beaver begins to actually fist fight him for supremacy is very good, but ultimately it goes to the subtler moment when his youngest son hugs him goodbye and we see the pain in his eyes at the knowledge of who he is and why the fuck his family would want to leave him. Heartbreaking stuff.

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