It’s not often that a popular actor sunk in disgrace and surrounded by media and movie-biz hostility can mount a comeback. Fatty Arbuckle—who was famously railroaded—never managed it; and Jeffrey Jones probably never will. So The Beaver
is a triumph for Mel Gibson. Diving down into the alcoholism and manic depression he has implicated in his appalling behavior in recent years, Gibson has resurfaced with one of his most moving performances. This is all the more remarkable because the film’s premise seems so wildly unlikely, if not ludicrous.
Gibson’s character is Walter Black, the successful—or once-successful—CEO of a New York toy company. Walter is being crushed to the ground by clinical depression and has just about given up hope. He’s tried some desperate therapies—from drum circles to self-flagellation—but now maintains on heavy meds. At work he’s a zombie; his staff is demoralized and profits are down. At home he spends most of his time in bed, smothering his pain in sleep. His loyal wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), has stuck by him; but while the youngest of their two sons, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), still loves his dad, the oldest, teenage Porter (the excellent Anton Yelchin), has turned away in contempt.
Rooting around in some castoff junk one day, Walter finds an old hand puppet, a cute, nubbly beaver. When Meredith finally reaches the end of her marital tether and tells him to move out of the house, Walter takes the beaver with him. Checking into a motel, he gets drunk in his room and suddenly hears a voice: “Oi!” The Cockney accent is familiar, and at first we wonder if Walter has suddenly been joined by Michael Caine. But no—it’s the beaver. “I’m here to save your goddamned life,” says the puppet, no longer quite so cute.
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