The Beaver - DVD Review

'writer Kyle Killen shows a snappy line in dialogue for the witty water-dweller, a repressed and subdued collection of mumbles for Gibson's Walter and an ear for teenage awkwardness with Yelchin and object-of-his-affection Norah'

The Beaver is your atypical, clich├ęd, film that 'doesn't know what it wants to be', a critical phrase which often means very little on its own. In relation to Jodie Foster's film then, let it be known that The Beaver is unsure whether, tonally, it wants to be a comedy about a man who speaks through a puppet on his hand or a drama about the realities, rigours and tragedies of depression. You cannot, I would argue, hold both of these notions at the same time. You either believe that the world in which we live is a place where a talking hand puppet can solve, at least temporarily, all of your problems, or you believe that this is a world where the end result of depression is self-harm, messed up children and severely broken homes.

If you are of the belief that these notions can co-exist, in one narrative, then Foster does her best to prove otherwise by largely separating them out into, at first, two distinct stories. Whilst Mel Gibson wanders round making everyone laugh by affecting a cockney accent and talking through a beaver (is it just me, or does this oddly suggest links to Ray Winstone's vocal work on The Chronicles Of Narnia?), son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is attempting to live his life with an absent father, struggling to connect with people, apart from through an ill-designed scheme to sell school essays for cash.

The tragedy of the fact that these segments don't mesh tonally is that, in isolation, they produce and exhibit some exemplary work. The Beaver, famously, was a script which featured on Hollywood's Black List of the best unproduced scripts in the industry and writer Kyle Killen shows a snappy line in dialogue for the witty water-dweller, a repressed and subdued collection of mumbles for Gibson's Walter and an ear for teenage awkwardness with Yelchin and object-of-his-affection Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). All of the main players - including Foster, who shows up in her own film as Walter's wife Meredith - produce fantastic performances. Perhaps the weakest is Lawrence but she is also the one who features least and has to struggle with a tradegy which happens outside of The Beaver's timeline and, therefore, off-screen.

The ultimate betrayal of the fact that the stories don't really jigsaw together comes in the final third, which doesn't work at all as it tries to blend the previously explored elements into some sort of dark-comedy, indie-family-drama, teen-redemption, love story, all with a happy-ish ending. Foster could certainly have handled the material better but she deserves credit for encouraging such a wealth of good performances. Killen's writing could have ensured each side developed more in-tune with the other but he, again, deserves credit for his excellent dialogue, which on occasion calls to mind Rian Johnson's still-excellent Brick. Unlike that film though, this doesn't quite have the brashness to set about its business with a singularity of purpose, to hell with all other genre concerns. The Beaver ultimately wants to have its cake and eat it.

Look further...

'let's face it, Gibson with a manky rodent on the end of his arm was always going to be at least a little funny... But this is a dramatic story and Gibson's excellent turn makes sure we know this all the way through' - Some Like It Hot Fuzz, 8/10


  1. First off, thanks very much for the nod to my own review of this. I agree with the vast majority of what you've said here, although I didn't feel the main plot following Walter and subplot concerning Porter were as separate as you say. There was a lot of clever character progression in Porter's story to link him more and more to where we see Walter at the start of the film. Why did you feel the final act didn't work?

    Also, good call on the Narnia link - when I watched this I actually thought it was Winstone providing the narration over the opening!

    1. Yup, no problem.

      It felt like Porter and Walter only went some way to reconciliation at the end because dramatic contrivance said that they had to. I didn't think it was in-keeping for Porter to go and get his Dad, as he did from the garage near the end, when throughout the rest of the film he's wanted nothing to do with him at any point. If he doesn't do that then, obviously, the end is a whole different ball game. The film's pretty dark but the end is, in comparison, fairly light. There's a real contrast in thirds and I didn't think it quite meshed.