Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Beaver (DVD Review)

DVD review of the drama The Beaver directed by Jodie Foster and starting Mel Gibson, Jodie Fostr, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Dir: Jodie Foster (Home for the Holidays, Little Man Tate)
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones, Riley Thomas Stewart
USA, 2011

Reason to see: Idea of a puppet being therapeutic intrigued me

The Beaver follows the journey of Walter (Mel Gibson) a man battle depression which puts him really on the edge and adversely affects his family including his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) and their sons Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart).

Wow, I knew The Beaver was about someone who talks though a beaver, but I had no idea how dark and depressing it would be. I guess I thought it would be more about therapy or someone finding themselves over literally depression and mental illness, and that makes it more of a challenge to review as I find films on mental illness hard to watch and therefore don't often fit them in to my viewing schedule. To make it even more complicated, there certainly are some comedic tones to the film (there is a talking puppet after all) but I would give it kudos for balancing the comedy with the tragedy and not going for dark comedy and also not pulling any punches.

It really sits with the darkness of depression, and even though it's uncomfortable and creates imbalance in the relationships between the family and all of the people in the film. The introduction of Walter talking though the puppet of the beaver initially helps and brings in some comedy but it also creates it's own slew of problems as well. Again shows the challenge of what to do when things aren't okay and how to deal with that with the people you love, or the possibly even more destructive effect of not dealing with what people are going through. Although there feels like some absurdity in the ideas, the film plays it very straight but I often found myself just wondering if they were going to go further. Because of this there is an extreme element of disembodied attachment that reminded me of The Red Shoes, the reliance on an object to obtain a goal and it's a very unnerving thing.

Even though there is tough subject matter to get through, at least we are receive them via some very strong performances, in particular Mel Gibson as Walter and in effect the beaver itself. I was also very impressed with Anton Yelchin's performance here, I've been keeping an eye on him for a while and it's nice to see him in an original role as both Terminator Salvation and Star Trek had strong characters and source material to draw on. Here, it's a clear that he's got the acting chops to hold his own among Jodie Foster & Mel Gibson along Jennifer Lawrence who plays Norah a fellow high school student that fills in and interesting side plot to the films mix.

It wasn't an easy watch and is easily outside my normal watch range, but I can see how the human drama, mental illness themes and strong performances could be a pull for those who enjoy films that don't hold back and really go deep into the emotional core of things. If the study of human nature is your thing, The Beaver is definitely one to see.

DVD Extras:
  • Audio Commentary with director Jodie Foster about the character of Walter and his depression, the effect of his depression on the entire family and people around him, the relationships within the familiar, challenges of the film, different choices an possibilities of how or if the beaver would talk, the choice of what kind of puppet and the clarity of it really being a prop, the casting of Anton Yelchin & Jennifer Lawrence and their characters of Porter & Norah, when scenes were shot or re-shot, desired tone of scenes, ideas and scenes that didn't make the final cut of the film and plus very interesting notation on what was a deal breaker for many people for the film. Although I found the film a challenging watch, I really enjoyed listening to the commentary and hearing the insights, inspirations and a more relatability perspective from director Jodie Fostr.
  • Deleted Scenes (2 scenes, 4 minutes) with option commentary from director discussing the nature of the scenes and what they bring to the film and characters, as well as why they weren't included in the film. Commentary is nice as they acts as introduction & explanation to scenes but aren't total voice-overs.
  • Everything is Going To Be O.K. ~ Featurette on the making-of The Beaver (12 minutes) film clips, behind the scenes and interviews with director/actor Jodie Foster, producer Steve Golin, actors Mel Gibson, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence and Cherry Jones introducing to the film and the character of Walter, the story, the characters, working with the puppet and design ideas on puppet choice, the complicated choice around what tone to go with considering both the dark and comedic nature of the film plus the casting choices & working together.
The Beaver is available on DVD as of August 23, 2011. Check it out over at Amazon.ca & Amazon.com

Shannon's Overall View:
I wanted to enjoyed it more
I'm not sure I'd watch it again
I'd recommend it fans of films that explore human nature, especially mental illness

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© Shannon Ridler, 2011

(L-R) MEL GIBSON, RILEY THOMAS STEWART and JODIE FOSTER star in THE BEAVER. Photo Ken Regan, Courtesy of eOne Films

ANTON YELCHIN stars in THE BEAVER. Photo Ken Regan, Courtesy of eOne Films

JENNIFER LAWRENCE stars in THE BEAVER. Photo Myles Aronowitz, Courtesy of eOne Films

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