Sydney Film Festival – The Beaver

The Beaver – Starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster. Directed by Jodie Foster. By Hilary Simmons.

I walked into The Beaver with no preconceptions. In fact, given my long-term dislike of Mel Gibson for his trigger-tempered rants both on and off screen, my expectations were low. I had not read assorted news stories about it tanking at the box office, and I had somehow missed the memo that it is the story of a suicidal executive who finds salvation in a beady-eyed beaver puppet he has salvaged from a Dumpster.

Had I known this, I would have hedged heavily on hating it.

However, there’s much more to The Beaver than Mel Gibson’s mug, the unfortunate title, and the film’s lukewarm reception in the U.S.

It’s a moving portrait of a mentally unstable man who self-medicates with a “prescription puppet” designed to create a psychological distance between himself and the destructive aspects of his personality. Directed by and co-starring Gibson’s close friend, Jodie Foster, it delves into the pain and dark humour of family dysfunction.

It is a grim example of Method acting if ever there was one; a compelling character study by a professional whose personal life has recently taken centre stage. It may not be possible to totally disengage the character’s crisis from Gibson’s own – but this is precisely what gives The Beaver its power. Gibson’s performance is poignant; he is clearly drawing from his own struggles, leading to some sharp social commentary about society’s over-reliance on pills and self-help books. Jodie Foster plays the clichéd part of the concerned wife competently, and the live-wire teenage son is particularly engaging, but this is very much Gibson’s film.

The delay in releasing The Beaver due to the actor’s messy domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend and subsequent charges of misdemeanour, together with its unlikely premise, begs the question of whether the public enjoys the dramas of the deranged. As the brutish beaver puppet opines, “People seem to love a train wreck, as long as it’s not them.” Nevertheless, The Beaver makes sense of crazy material in a compelling and convincing manner.

3/5

Discuss: Did you catch The Beaver at SFF?

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