By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 6, 2011 at 4:30AM
I didn’t want to read a word about The Beaver before seeing it, and I’m glad I went in “cold.” It’s a purposefully odd little film about mental illness and a broken family, made with care and obvious passion by Jodie Foster from a screenplay by Kyle Killen. There entire cast is good, but the centerpiece is a potent performance by Mel Gibson.
Some people (myself included) were uncomfortable about Gibson’s screen return in 2010’s Edge of Darkness, following a series of misadventures and offensive outbursts. While he did a good job, this film offers something altogether different. Instead of having to forget the real Gibson and buy into the character he’s playing, The Beaver casts him as a depressed husband and father who goes a bit nuts and tries to redeem himself. What can one say to that? It seems like a perfect fit.
I know I shouldn’t allow my feelings about a performer in “real life” to affect my view of him or her on film, but that’s like a judge telling—
—a jury to ignore damning evidence they’ve already heard. Gibson has always excelled at playing men on the edge—apparently for good reason—and this part takes that to an extreme, a place he’s perfectly willing to go.
The story, about a man drowning in depression who finds an unlikely path to redemption through the use of a hand puppet, certainly requires a leap of faith on the part of the audience. I was willing to make that leap, and if the story doesn’t stay perfectly on track, I’m forgiving of it because it’s so intriguing and provocative.
Foster gives a fine performance, as always, in an exceedingly difficult role as Gibson’s wife, who wants to forgive him but can’t deal with the beaver puppet. Anton Yelchin is also quite good as the couple’s older son who fears that he’s inherited all his father’s worst traits. And Jennifer Lawrence is effective as the high school valedictorian who reaches out to Yelchin for help with her graduation speech.
The Beaver doesn’t pretend to have easy answers about mental health or dysfunctional families, but it has empathy for all of its characters and, in an age of glibness, that’s admirable, and welcome.