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The Beaver Blu-ray Review

The Beaver (2011) movie poster The Beaver

Theatrical Release: May 6, 2011 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Music List

Director: Jodie Foster / Writer: Kyle Killen

Cast: Mel Gibson (Walter Black), Jodie Foster (Meredith Black), Anton Yelchin (Porter Black), Jennifer Lawrence (Norah), Cherry Jones (Vice President), Riley Thomas Stewart (Henry Black), Zachary Booth (Jared), Kelly Coffield Park (Norah's Mom), Elizabeth Kaledin (Reporter), Matt Lauer (Himself), Jon Stewart (Himself), Terry Gross (Herself)

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There's a good chance that The Beaver didn't reach a theater near you and the simplest explanation seems to be that it stars Mel Gibson. New York-born, Australia-raised Gibson was one of the world's biggest movie stars beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into this century. He set aside his acting career to direct, something for which he had already won the industry's highest honors on Braveheart. Gibson's third directorial outing was more than a film to him, it was a religious calling. And, defying everything that Hollywood believed about faith cinema, independently produced and distributed The Passion of the Christ was a box office behemoth, the must-see movie of the Easter 2004 season and the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.
Some celebrated The Passion as the definitive film treatment of Jesus' last hours on Earth, others decried the unrelenting violence and perceived antisemitism. Two things were certain: the movie was one of the biggest hits and one of the most controversial releases ever.

That interesting mix lent its director/producer to media scrutiny and as the flames of his father's Holocaust denial had faded, Gibson rekindled them with his actions in Malibu in July 2006. He was arrested for driving under the influence, but the real story laid in the antisemitic remarks he made to police officers. Somehow, those remarks of the police report were leaked to the press and Gibson's reputation was forever tarnished. Gibson made the appropriate apologies, served his three years of probation, attended self-help meetings on a near-daily basis, and largely stayed out of the public eye. In 2010, Gibson made his big screen return in Edge of Darkness, which gave him his first starring role since 2002's Signs. The film received mixed reviews and barely earned back half of its budget domestically.

That was, however, the least of Gibson's 2010 worries. In July, his girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva took out a restraining order against him and Los Angeles police opened a domestic violence investigation. The incidents even had embarrassing, racist phone call recordings to go with them, widely distributed on the Internet. Gibson was dropped by his agency and The Beaver was delayed from its planned Christmas Eve release date. That October, Gibson was cast and then un-cast in a cameo role for The Hangover Part II, over actor and crew objections. Many noted the irony of Gibson's DUI arrest, documented rants, and unsubstantiated charges being deemed unforgivable by a franchise that twice made room for convicted rapist Mike Tyson to send up himself.

In response to the domestic battery charges, Gibson would plead no contest in March 2011 and accept another three years of probation and another year of counseling. But though the legal system accepted his denial of liability, the film industry and general populace were different stories.

This may seem tangential and irrelevant, but all of these happenings factored into The Beaver's cautious limited release and flopping. It speaks volumes about the court of public opinion in the information age and how the filmmaking world no longer limits its interests to when the cameras are rolling. Fifty years ago, racism, antisemitism, and sexism were unfortunately common and sometimes even valued. The lines between the private and public lives of celebrities were clearly drawn. Today, everything is fair game. And yet, as powerful as the fast, global, electronic dissemination of news and even gossip is, without the seemingly questionable actions of Malibu police officers and his own girlfriend, Gibson would undoubtedly be more highly regarded, his transgressions not household knowledge.

While no one can condone the behavior of Gibson, the damage he's done has been deemed unworthy of jail time. His talents as an actor and a director have been widely noted. And yet, like Michael Richards, another entertainer whose brief, painful lapse in judgment continues to hang over him and overshadow his accomplishments despite reasonable contrition, Gibson has been branded an outcast in his professional community.

In "The Beaver", Mel Gibson plays a troubled man who finds value in letting a found hand puppet speak for him.

Which brings us back to The Beaver, a movie pegged as Gibson's comeback vehicle from the moment it became clear that Edge of Darkness was not. This PG-13 family drama reunites Gibson with his Maverick co-star Jodie Foster, who also makes this her third film as director, following 1991's Little Man Tate and 1995's Home for the Holidays.

Gibson plays Walter Black, a man who inherited professional success in the toy industry. Walter has not been himself lately and it is taking its toll on his company, on his wife of twenty years Meredith (Foster), and on their two sons, teenaged Porter (Anton Yelchin) and young Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). The rut has involved sinking stock prices, excessive sleep, resentment, alcohol, and, now, separation. In a hotel room with seemingly no reason to live, Walter twice, halfheartedly tries to kill himself. These latest failures do not bring him lower, but instead present him a chance for rebirth.

The next day, he picks up Henry from school and unveils the new Walter Black, a caring and attentive father. There is the small fact that he is wearing a beaver puppet on his left hand and letting it speak for him with an accent that sounds more like Edge of Darkness co-star Ray Winstone than Gibson's old Aussie tone. Weird behavior for a middle-aged man? Certainly. But Meredith is willing to overlook it, with Walter -- well, actually "The Beaver" speaking through Walter -- claiming it is some progressive treatment prescribed for him by his psychologist. Porter is less forgiving. Still, before long, Walter appears to be part of the family again and at his very best, beaver puppet aside.

The personal success extends to the workplace, where Walter has "resigned" and The Beaver is now calling the shots. A wood carving play kit with the beaver as its mascot is an unlikely bestseller. Life remains more confusing for Porter, whose reputation for writing other students' essays for them (at a hefty price) attracts the attention of cheerleader Norah (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone). She offers him $500 to write her valedictorian speech and in the process, forms a strong bond with him.

The fact that Walter's therapy actually springs not from a doctor's mind, but from a dumpster find and a botched suicide attempt eventually must come to light. When it does, it threatens the progress Walter has made, progress that may be worthless if it requires a furry woodland creature speaking for him at all times.

An unlikely romance develops between secretly artistic cheerleader/valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) and Walter's scheming teenaged son Porter (Anton Yelchin). Director Jodie Foster also plays Walter's wife, who is understanding and forgiving as she recognizes the benefits of her husband's new behavior.

When pictures of Mel Gibson in public with a beaver puppet on his hand emerged, one might have assumed it was a joke, reigniting the prankster reputation I'm sure Gibson misses having.
Those who found out it was for a movie had every reason to believe it was a comedy. That doesn't really turn out to be the case. As bizarre as its premise is, The Beaver plays it quite seriously, making sure to show that depression and mental illness are no laughing matters.

The movie is a dark drama too, due in no small part to Gibson's casting. While he was always primarily an action star, the Lethal Weapon series is practically the textbook definition of action-comedy. One of Gibson's all-time biggest hits outside that series was 2000's What Women Want, an unabashed romantic comedy. I don't think the public is ready to again embrace Gibson in such a project just yet. Even in The Beaver, a movie with some levity, Gibson's high-profile baggage supplies tragic overtones. Though Steve Carell and Jim Carrey were reportedly attached at different times, no one else was as strikingly suited for the part of Walter Black, which seems to have been written for wounded Gibson, the world's weight on his shoulders as evident as the deep-set wrinkles on his forehead. It's open for debate whether Gibson's presence elevates the film or detracts from it. I'll go with the former. While I can think of no other actor who I'd write six paragraphs on before talking about the movie, I can also think of any other actor who would elicit such interest in this film and its release. The synchronicity of Gibson's ventriloquism and the distinctiveness of his invented voice especially impress.

On the whole, though, The Beaver is a bit of a letdown. The screenplay is the first by Kyle Killen, who created the drama "Lone Star", which Fox cancelled after airing just two episodes. The movie feels like something that would have been pitched to Robin Williams in the 1990s, with Chris Columbus a logical choice to direct. Of course, such a pairing would render this movie a comedy with heart and tenderness, as opposed to something resembling a humorless PG-13 American Beauty.

The absurd premise of The Beaver is never really taken at face value. Most of those around Walter are quick to accept the therapeutic value of his new lifestyle, taking it in stride as he showers and sleeps with the puppet. The beaver almost doesn't matter to this film and the story it wants to tell of a family healing. That leaves this feeling rather average and ordinary, qualities most recognizable during the unsatisfying final act. Somehow, the nicely performed but standard senior year material of Yelchin and Lawrence's characters makes as much of a lasting mark as Gibson's furry hijinks and that finds the film failing its design and falling short of its goals.

One of the latest releases to underscore the chasm existing at Summit Entertainment between its standard underperformers and the Twilight movies, The Beaver is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, with a long to go before making back its $21 million production budget. We review the Blu-ray here.

The Beaver Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy Blu-ray from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
DTS-HD 5.1 MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $30.49
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Summit may not yet be considered the equal of major movie studios, some of whom have been around twenty times as long, but when it comes to picture quality, they are up there with the very best. The Beaver's 2.40:1 Blu-ray presentation is quite stunning. It's as sharp, clean, and vibrant as today's technology allows. And while it's not the most visually ambitious film, there are some nice-looking compositions that the transfer makes easy to enjoy. There isn't as much to say about the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. All the elements are clear and well-mixed, but this isn't a soundtrack you'll pay much notice to, even with the occasional licensed song flare.

Walter gets even weirder and darker with The Beaver in this extended workplace scene. Jodie Foster is seen directing Mel Gibson in "Everything is Going to be O.K."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by Jodie Foster. Though I wish Gibson joined her here, Foster is as articulate and intelligent as she has been elsewhere. Her production stories, analysis, and observations enhance playback some, though this is inessential listening.

Next come two deleted scenes (4:52). In the first, Meredith talks about marriage on a video call to Japan.
The second takes a weird turn as it extends Walter's conferring with the company vice president (Cherry Jones). Foster explains their deletion in terse optional audio commentary over them.

"Everything is Going to be O.K.: The Making of The Beaver" (12:00) gathers more insightful remarks from Foster. B-roll, film clips and comments from Gibson, Yelchin, and Lawrence flesh out this solid featurette.

Finally, an Internet connection should enable the BD-Live section "What's New?" For me, the answer to that question was "nothing", because "an error occurred" on the four times and two players I tried to access this. And I was really looking forward to watching the Breaking Dawn trailer!

The disc opens with a trailer for A Better Life and a 2-minute depression PSA. The Beaver's own theatrical trailer is conspicuously absent.

On my set top player, the Blu-ray's menu strangely took a very long time to load its listings, having you wait, staring at a blank Post-It note for nearly a full minute. The design at least is cleverly inspired by a bit in the film.

If they are in the midst of playback when you power down, the disc will resume the movie and bonus features. Otherwise, you're dealing with the nuisance of an unskippable logo and long menu introduction. The BD also supports bookmarks on the movie, which it confirms with a screen-filling Post-It note.

There are no inserts or slipcovers, just a standard slim Blu-ray case, with parts of the plastic cut, for the environment.

In real life, Mel Gibson has avoided talk shows for the past year. As Walter Black, though, he and his beaver chat with Matt Lauer on "The Today Show."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Beaver is probably as fitting a project as any to reunite Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster. Unfortunately, neither the actor nor the director can elevate the film above the trope-laden screenplay, its oddness underplayed and packaged in an unremarkable and ultimately unfulfilling dark family drama.

Summit's Blu-ray provides great picture, good sound, and an okay handful of bonus features. With less accomplished talent, the movie would be less interesting but it'd have an easier time meeting your expectations. As is, it's got enough to warrant a rental, especially by those who feel that Gibson's ugly private tirades ought not to derail his acting career.

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The Beaver Music List (in order of use): James Helms - "'Kung Fu' Underscore", Julius Fucik - "Entrance of the Gladiators", Laura Veirs - "Summer is the Champion", Frightened Rabbit - "Swim Until You Can't See Land", Homer Greencastle - "Cocktail Lullaby", Radiohead - "Exit Music (for a film)", Mackintosh Braun - "Frozen"

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Reviewed August 29, 2011.



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