Mel Gibson has made an entire career out of playing characters with borderline personality disorder. Impulsive actions, unstable moods and chaotic relationships go beyond the desperate Tom Mullen in 1996’s Ransom, the internal struggle as Justin McLeod in 1993’s The Man Without a Face, and maybe the strangest – Jerry Fletcher in 1997’s Conspiracy Theory where he’s obsessed with Erin Brockovich (ok, ok Julie Roberts) and says in a Taxi Cab “I, uh, I have some problems.” He’s really got some problems in The Beaver…and for anyone who has watched the Oz television series where the lovable psychotic Cyril O’Reily (played by Scott William Winters) wears a Beaver hand-puppet, well, director Jodie Foster takes it very much to the next level.
Jodie Foster and Anton Yelchin (the 2009 Star Trek’s version of Chekov) are exquisite in this film which was originally intended to be a black comedy. Foster instinctively knew to take this down a deeper and much darker path where Gibson struggles with overwhelming insanity. Fighting demons is not an easy thing to do and the helplessness felt by the loved ones who appear abandoned by their rudder gives Gibson another “family” type role that he handled so well in “Signs”, “What Women Want” and a variety of other films – Ransom in particular – where he sometimes plays the role onscreen better than what the tabloids are reporting about his “real life.”
That being said, the guiding hand of Foster, both rehabilitating Gibson’s off-screen image and simultaneously navigating this movie is the mark of a gifted director, beyond where Clint Eastwood was with “Play Misty For Me”, when Clint was just getting his fine chops together. This is serious stuff and a more heady…and sometimes stressful trip…deeper into Wonderland than Timothy Burton’s recent journey for Alice.
In an interview with TMR Zoo Chief Film critic Joe Viglione, Foster had this to say about her character:
Joe Viglione: Meredith Black seems to be the opposite of Madeline White
Jodie Foster: YES!
JV: One of my favorites characters by you
JF: Thank you. Me too, I wish there was a whole movie about her.
JV: Me too!
JF: I Know
JV: I like to connect the dots with artists…
JV :….and their movies you know, like “clever girl”, S.R. Hadden (charachter played by John Hurt in Contact) and
Hannibal Lecter both say “clever girl”
JF: That’s true, that’s true
JV: But Meredith couldn’t be clever with all this insanity around her, even though she tried her hardest.
JF: Well, I think she’s a really true character, I mean, she is somebody who is the audience’s point of view. And you know the Beaver couldn’t be the audience’s point of view because he’s crazy. So we had to find someone who could anchor the film and anchor Walter’s drama and really give a perspective on him that was the same as the audience so that the audience starts out saying “Well, maybe that’s not so bad? This is good for the little kid, right? This is good for my kid, and they go with it for awhile till they start seeing how absurd it is and how it starts disintegrating the family…and (they) start seeing the ramifications, especially the ramifications on the children. And that’s where she draws the line. “Not my sons, you’re not going to take my sons down that road. They’re not going to be scarred by watching their father lose his mind. And that’s the point where the audience leaves Walter. And where she leaves Walter. So, yes, Meredith is the point of view of the audience.”
There are surprising twists here…and a strange gravitation to “tagging”, the illegal spray painting of stuff on public and private property – which is also in another upcoming film, Beginners. The Beaver is a drama of immense proportions. It has the star power of Foster, the young fan base that Yelchin brings to the table, and the very Charlie Sheen-like persona that Mel Gibson trademarked, taking Liz Taylor’s public escapades to an entirely different place.
Thought provoking and stark, there is redemption here, but with a high price. What stands out is how in control Jodie Foster is, and The Beaver, whether it does well at the box office or not, is an amazing work that will give Foster even more control of Hollywood. Which is actually a good thing…she’s trustworthy and very deserving of the ultra exclusive doors in filmdom that this motion picture should open for her. Doors that very few mortals are allowed to pass through.
Watch for a follow-up essay on this film and more insight from director Jodie Foster
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.