Have you ever been on a jury? I’ve been summoned to serve on Jury Duty several times. Once, (for a variety of reasons neither relevant nor interesting here) I inadvertently covered myself in soy sauce, combed Wesson oil thru my hair and wore a pair of shattered eyeglasses to my first court appearance and was promptly excused. Another time I had to sit for three days while they asked us ad nauseum if we could promise to ignore any preconceived notions about the dangers of asbestos, and listen only to the facts of the case. We hear this all the time on legal shows – can the jury focus on only what they’re told in the courtroom – even if there’s gossip swirling around in the outside world. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the focus to do this. I’d undoubtedly be swayed by public opinion no matter how hard I “tried” not to let that color my views.
That’s exactly what I thought about yesterday when I went and saw The Beaver. Could I set my issues with Mel Gibson aside and watch with an unbiased mind? Would I be able to ignore all the deplorable things the guy’s apparently done and said? I know that there are a ton of people who categorically won’t watch it. But truthfully, The Year of Living Dangerously is still one of my all time favorite films and I also adore Jodie Foster (who directed The Beaver). Thus, my curiosity won out over my hesitation.I tried to watch and keep – like a juror – all the outside stuff at bay. Which is, admittedly, nearly impossible. If you can do that, you might find yourself surprised by the movie. Largely because Gibson is absolutely astonishing. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch, and in anyone else’s hands the subject matter (suicidal depression and its effects on the family) could be reduced to a Very Poignant TV Movie. But not here. Gibson – perhaps emboldened by his own demons – is so fierce he’s startling in his performance as a father and husband who can only communicate through a filthy rodent hand puppet he’s found in a dumpster. So fried and numb is he that he takes the puppet everywhere – and thus this additional character (also voiced by Gibson) becomes part of his family and his work. The fact that we buy his total unraveling, and that we can also understand the very complicated nuances of his family’s reaction, are a testament to both Gibson and Foster. There’s a subplot involving Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), also achingly well played. Point is, The Beaver’s a fascinating rumination upon a very real problem that affects millions of Americans every day, and it’s smart enough to know how divided audiences will be. Also curious was that neither Jon Stewart nor Matt Lauer had a problem appearing in the film – and even if it was made a while back, Gibson’s reputation was already spiraling. Perhaps they thought Jodie Foster wouldn’t be making a movie that didn’t have some degree of integrity to it. I don’t expect a lot of people to go see The Beaver. And I completely respect those who too repulsed to get past the stuff that its star has said and done – this was pretty deal-breakish for me, until sheer curiosity won out. What I do think is that they will watch it on TV down the road and be pleasantly surprised. Like I said, it’s by no means a towering masterpiece, but if you want to see a superb performance from a gifted actor, check Gibson out here. He is fearsome, fearless, and beyond heartbreaking. Not a likeable guy these days, but one heck of a talented performer. Or else just super in touch with all the right demons.
1) The Accused
2) Inside Man
3) Panic Room
4) The Silence of the Lambs