The Beaver (2011) Blu-ray Review: A Terrific Film with Some Dazzling Performances

I have literally seen several thousand movies — and I am not in any way trying to brag when I say that, as I know there are professional (read: “real”) film critics out there that have seen thousands more. Now, one of the things that members of the general public sometimes don’t really take into consideration when it comes to reviewers assessing a moving picture’s worthiness is that we don’t always pick the movies we see on account of any leisurely “Hey, let’s go see that movie” feeling. As such, we occasionally get something dropped in our lap that we have absolutely no ability to connect to.

In the case of The Beaver, however, I actually felt a connection. No, it’s not because I share the same ostensible views of certain cultures and creeds as The Beaver’s fallen star, one Mr. Mel Gibson — a once brilliant celebrity whose recent, well-publicized past run-ins with law enforcement officials and personal relations alike have given many people the impression that he doesn’t like colored folks, Jews, border jumpers, or just about anyone else for that matter. That’s not the point here, kids. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know why I bothered to bring it up — other than to point out that, occasionally, life imitates art. It’s really rather depressing, actually.

And that brings me to the actual reason why I connected with this flick: depression. I’m no stranger to the land of gloom. I’ve been there, bought the t-shirt, and have been picking it up off the bedroom floor to mope about the house in for many years now. So, when I see the onscreen character of Walter Black (Gibson), a dejected middle-aged man whose entire life has changed over his seemingly untreatable form of despondency leaving his family, moving out of the house, and contemplating suicide, I can say “Ah, yes. That looks vaguely familiar!”

The subsequent sight of seeing a down and out Mel Gibson load an entire case of booze into the trunk of his car might conjure up an uneasy chuckle or two out of viewers, but it leads to the story’s titular character: a fuzzy, worn-out, discarded hand-puppet of the Castor genus. Inserting his fist into the doll, Walter soon finds himself on the verge of ending it all — only to be “saved” by the inanimate critter after he seemingly embellishes a portion of his personality into it. Indeed, Walter does adorn his new sidekick with a fraction of himself (apart from his arm, that is): a side of him that is able to protect his all-but-defunct human counterpart from those elements of life that have more than likely put him in his unfortunate predicament in the first place.

Employing a Cockney accent, The Beaver is quite a charming: winning over the adoration of two-thirds of Walter’s discarded family as well as the members of his off-target corporation. At first, the newfound “duo” refer to the toy as a “prescription puppet” — and lie about it actually being a new form of therapy as approved by a shrink. As time marches on, however, Walter’s new pal begins to finally worry his estranged wife (Jodie Foster, who also directs), who allows the once-disheveled man to move back in with the family, much to the dismay of their oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), who has an extreme distaste for his father, but whose own mental health is no doubt at risk itself.

Fortunately, The Beaver doesn’t focus entirely on Walter. Writer Kyle Killen (creator of the short-lived FOX series, Lone Star) wisely shines the light on the eldest Black son, Porter, as well. He’s a troubled teen who has assembled a collage of post-its on his bedroom wall marking the disturbing similarities he shares with his pater, intent on not assimilating those parallels into his own life. Making the acquaintance of a popular cheerleader at school with a 4.0 GPA (?), Porter discovers that preppy young Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t as happy as he figures she is. In fact, throughout the course of the film, both Porter and Walter discover that there are quite a lot of people with some problems being happy in life.

Again, life imitates art: The Beaver explores many of the troubled, emotional depths a lot of people tend to overlook in life. It’s an altogether terrific film with some dazzling performances from a brilliant cast. And it’s also one that this reviewer recommends wholeheartedly — even if you can see Mel Gibson’s lips move as he manipulates his furry companion’s chops. Oh, wait, that’s intentional, isn’t it?

While the presentation isn’t 100% spot-on, Summit Entertainment’s release of The Beaver brings us a more-than-adequate 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer of the film. Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, The Beaver sports an already “cool” color tone (owing to the subject matter — it would look hella funky otherwise) that comes out quite nicely. Detail and clarity are very fine here, bringing you closer to all the lines on Mel Gibson’s face that you probably ever want to be. The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is an enjoyable mix, delivering dialogue and background sounds/music more than efficiently. A Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also on-hand (pun intended), as are optional subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Special features for The Beaver include a somewhat-dull audio commentary with actress/director Jodie Foster, who probably should have had some backup on this one; two deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Foster; and a featurette entitled “Everything Is Going To Be OK” with select cast and crew. There’s also a look at a couple of other Summit releases at the beginning of the disc, along with a mind-numbing “commercial” of sorts that attempts to reach out to clinically unhappy people — though its odd choice of a font and bizarre nature to begin with might just alienate ’em even more.

Damn, I just went back to being a critic again. Oh, well, The Beaver’s still a great flick.

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Luigi Bastardo

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