Walter Black suffers with depression, despite efforts to treat his illness. When his wife Meredith throws him out of the house, Walter makes a failed suicide attempt. Waking up, he decides to use a discarded beaver puppet in order to communicate with his family and colleagues…
The narrative of The Beaver can become plodding at times. In its attempts to retain an air of seriousness, the film is rather stodgy. Much of the duration is spent on the initial set up, and the beaver puppet coming into prominence with Walter’s family and his career. Therefore the puppet’s demise feels abrupt in comparison. The Beaver does not flow as smoothly as it should.
The film never really gets to the heart of Walter’s illness, which is of course the raison d’être of the story. Instead, it feels as if the issue is skirted around, giving indications but never overtly dealing with the subject in a suitable degree of detail. It is never made clear why previous attempts to treat his depression were unsuccessful, for example.
In one sense, it is good that the topic of mental illness is dealt with sensitively. Walter is a character to be intrigued by and pitied, not derided. However, Walter’s need to use the puppet is indicative of a failure of the mental health professionals, as well as his wife in not raising the alarm soon enough. There seems to be confusion in the message delivered by The Beaver. It is unclear whether the onus is on the patient to recognise the problem, or on the support network to source appropriate treatment.
More interesting than the main narrative is the plot concerning Walter’s son Porter, and his burgeoning friendship with Norah. This story seems more authentic, and generates more of an emotional investment. Jodie Foster’s directing style is adequate, but the film is stilted in some places. The voiceover works well, and could have been employed to a greater extent. The numerous cross cuts between Walter and the beaver labour the point somewhat.
Mel Gibson is good as Walter, but seems to be trying too hard at times. Perhaps this is understandable though, after the damage done to his reputation by revelations about his personal life. Foster is decent as Meredith, while Anton Yelchin stands out as Porter. Jennifer Lawrence appears authentic as Norah.
Ultimately, The Beaver is not wholly satisfying. There are some great performances, but the film does not engage in the way a good drama should.