Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Riley Thomas Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones, Zachary Booth, Jeff Corbett, Kelly Coffield Park, Michael Rivera, Elizabeth Kaledin, Matt Lauer, Jon Stewart, Terry Gross
Written by: Kyle Killen
Directed by: Jodie Foster
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference
Running Time: 91
Date: 03/16/2011

The Beaver (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Dam Straight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jodie Foster's third movie as a director (after Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays) is nothing if not brave, though what exactly it wants to say and whether it finds the right tone are up for debate. The idea of Gibson -- who, in recent years, has come across in the media as more than a little nutty -- playing a serious character with a talking hand puppet could have been either appealingly outrageous or totally disastrous. But instead the movie comes across as rather safe and sober, with misplaced attempts at humor.

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a business executive and a family man who suffers from crippling depression. His wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), and older son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), eventually give up on him, and he makes a failed attempt at suicide. But then a plush beaver hand puppet he finds in the trash begins "talking" to him and giving him a means to cope. The beaver allows Walter to reconnect with his younger son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), and helps him succeed at his job. Meanwhile, Porter struggles to break away from his father's influence, using his brains to write black market papers for his fellow high school students, but things go topsy-turvy when pretty valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) comes into his life. However, it's not long before everything comes to a head...

Other characters' reactions to Walter's problem are troublesome, and the media phenomenon behind a successful toy woodcarving kit -- conjured up by the beaver -- rings both totally false and somewhat naive. Oddly, the subplot about Walter's teen son and his quirky relationship with a sad valedictorian is far more compelling than the showier, creepier "beaver" section of the story. Overall, the movie feels like an unbalanced misfire.

Summit's Blu-Ray release comes with deleted scenes and a making-of featurette, and best of all, a Jodie Foster commentary track; as a performer, she is intelligent and open and has always delivered refreshingly honest commentaries on her movies. Overall quality is superb.

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