When I reviewed the campaign for The Beaver back in 2011 it was right as Mel Gibson was coming apart. The marketing fell right in the middle of his very public problems including the anti-semitic remarks he made to police, meaning he was largely absent from the publicity and other aspects of the campaign.
Let’s take a step back and look at the story. Walter (Gibson) is a depressed husband, father and head of a toy company that’s beset by problems. He’s been kicked out by his wife (Jodie Foster) and is a less-than-stellar role model to his two sons. He happens upon a beaver puppet and soon it begins to speak to him through him, acting as the conduit for all his thoughts and emotions. That has repercussions both positive and negative for his family and business. While all that is happening his oldest son (the late Anton Yelchin) is openly rebelling against his father.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I found the movie was available to stream via Netflix but decided it would make for a decent couple of hours of having something on in the background. Surprisingly, I found myself getting sucked into the story of Walter and his prescription puppet, as well as the drama that surrounds the rest of his family.
There are decided and definite problems with the story. Foster’s Meredith is pretty much whatever the story needs her to be, kicking Walter out one minute and welcoming him back with open arms the next before kicking him out again and so on. Hers is probably the most frustrating part of the movie since there’s no consistency or rationale to her actions or her attitude, justifying everything with the “well she loves him” justification, which only goes so far.
On the other hand, Gibson is moving and nuanced as Walter, mixing his more reserved style seamlessly with the go-for-broke kind of physical performance that initially made him such a powerhouse in the Lethal Weapon and other movies earlier in his career. His sideways looks and eyebrow twitches have always been among his most interesting tools as an actor and those are on full display here as he walks the line, always making the audience wonder if Walter is still in there or if he’s gone fully insane with his use of the puppet as an emotional outlet.
All of this is pretty clearly on display in the trailer. There’s the usual amount of time-shifting, with scenes appearing out of order in an effort to create emotional tension in the short running time but it’s remarkably accurate about what kind of movie it is that’s being sold. If there’s one complaint here it’s that there isn’t enough time in the trailer given to Yelchin’s storyline as the oldest son of Walter and Meredith. His storyline is among the best in the movie as he’s seeking to come to terms with himself and his family, another testament to this amazing actor who was taken way too soon.