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Saturday 18 November 2017

REVIEW: The Beaver ***

Paul Whitington

Mel Gibson doesn't act much these days. The Beaver constitutes only his second lead performance in the past eight years, and he's currently making noises about retiring behind the camera -- where he's clearly more comfortable -- forever.

It's not hard to see why Mel would rather stay as far from the spotlight's glare as possible, but, though far from perfect, The Beaver reminds one of just how remarkably intense and charismatic a screen actor Gibson can be when he puts his mind to it. Directed by his old friend Jodie Foster, The Beaver certainly presents him with a challenge.

He is Walter Black, the chronically depressed and grandly dysfunctional chief executive of a toy company whose life is beginning to come apart at the seams. Under his fitful direction the company has begun a slow procession down the toilet, and meanwhile his sainted wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) has finally decided she's had enough of him. Worried about the negative effect his constant gloom is having on their two sons, she gives him the old heave ho and ejects him from the homestead. Initially, Walter does not cope too well: he goes to a hotel and tries to hang himself from a shower curtain. He fails, but when he finds a tatty old glove puppet in a dumpster his life takes an unexpected new turn.

When he places the puppet, notionally a beaver, on to his arm, something funny happens. The beaver begins talking to him in a gruff cockney/Australian accent, and telling him to pull himself together. Walter is doing the talking of course -- touchingly, there's no attempt at ventriloquistic obfuscation -- but the puppet is clearly some sort of manifestation of Walter's troubled, divided mind. And while the Beaver acts as a rough and ready life coach, he also becomes a fierce buffer between Walter and the world.

Whether or not you accept this increasingly tenuous premise is up to you, and the film's structure is fatally weakened by a ponderous love story involving Walter's son. But Gibson is all too credible as the crumbling businessman, and brings plenty of salty humour to a challenging role.

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