You have to hand it to Jodie Foster. After directing two movies in the 90s, one ('Little Man Tate') a straightforward drama about a gifted child; the other, a Christmas family comedy ('Home for the Holidays'), the Oscar-winning actress decided it was time to get behind the camera again this year. Yet instead of taking on a safe, formula-tested movie, she decides to tackle an original story of a depressed man who communicates through the use of a hand puppet.
As if that weren’t tricky enough, Jodie then goes and casts an actor in the leading role who, in the wake of Bin Laden’s demise, would definitely be in the running for the title of America’s Most Pilloried Man. I’d like to have been in the room when Jodie made that particular pitch to the studio execs: ‘This is how it works, guys, a depressed Mel Gibson talks through a beaver puppet in a cockney accent.’
To be fair to Jodie (and indeed, Mel), what could have been bonkers, car crash material turns out to be quite a moving drama. 'The Beaver' offers Gibson one of the strongest, weirdest roles of his career and he’s up to the challenge. When we first meet his character, Walter, he’s an executive at his wits' end; bored with his work and alienated from his wife (Foster) and son (Anton Yelchin). It’s only the chance discovery of a beaver hand-puppet that allows Walter to reconnect with the world in some way; using an accent that suggests Jodie and Mel are not unfamiliar with the films of Ray Winstone.
The strength of the movie lies with its interesting premise and the strong performances of the two leads (if it was anybody but Mel, I’d say an Oscar nomination was on the cards). On the downside, the movie crumbles a lot in the third act and a secondary plot, involving the relationship between Yelchin and High School hottie Jennifer Lawrence, doesn’t always ring true.
'The Beaver' is a unique drama that ought not to work but does, possibly by the skin of its two front teeth.