Sometimes a movie is more linked to the off-screen antics of one or more of the stars (Gigli being the one that comes to mind for me). However, one of the things that needs to be done in cases like this is a divorcing of opinion and attention from those actions off-screen to what happens on it. We're all aware of Mel Gibson's behavior over the last five years, but I think that has to be eliminated from judgment when you're viewing his films. That even goes for films like The Beaver, which makes itself vulnerable to that kind of criticism.
Kyle Killen's first screenplay was directed by Jodie Foster, Gibson's friend and co-star from Maverick. In it, Gibson, a toy company president, is married to Foster and they have two kids, one in elementary school, the other (played by Anton Yelchin, Fright Night) is about to graduate high school and is categorizing the similarities in his father Walter's (Gibson) behavior with his own. He's doing this to see if he sees himself going down the same psychological road. He does in because in part, Walter's behavior has grown increasingly bleak over the weeks and months. The financial performance of his company is falling fast and he becomes more unresponsive and distant, to the point where Meredith (Foster) asks him to move out. Walter sinks into a pit of depression when checking into a hotel, and even tries to kill himself but after two failed attempts, he awakes and finds a beaver puppet (which he found in the garbage) next to him. With a Cockney inflection (that makes him sound like a young Michael Gambon) the beaver's voice becomes Walter's, one that gives him the chance to communicate easier with his family and co-workers.
Getting past any easy skeptical criticisms of Gibson's role being some sort of halfhearted attempt at character redemption for his acts with his girlfriend, this is actually an excellent performance from him. His shows a lot of emotion while being virtually stoic, there are a lot of shots in the film where the beaver is covering his face and/or mouth to help convince the viewer of the beaver serving as Walter's mechanism. We go through Walter's initial recovery which eventually dissolves into pain, and in a key scene in the film he and the puppet get into a fight that results in a gruesome ending.
The problem with the scene though isn't the execution of it, the story (and Foster's direction, by extension) has muddled things in the time leading up to this point. There's a small degree of whimsy combined with the gravitas Walter and the beaver are given both at work and in his home that makes the scene a little uneasy to watch because you don't know if you should wince or laugh at what's going on. From her actions through most of the movie, it's clear Meredith accepts Walter and the beaver, even during sex (when the beaver gasps for breath post-coitus along with Walter). Walter's younger son accepts the beaver completely and interacts with him perfectly. Walter's older son Porter (Yelchin) isn't as willing, and these acts Walter is doing in the house almost immediately after he's been kicked out cause him to bang his head against the wall, something we discover is something he's apparently used to doing. He finds himself writing papers and speeches for high school classmates for money, including a cheerleader (played by Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone) who went through something similar to what Porter is going through and he feels he can relate to her more.
Watching The Beaver was interesting and personally I bought into the concept of Walter going through his personal and business lives with a beaver on his left hand. I'm guessing that when your world is crashing down around you and suicide doesn't work, looking for a way to hide behind rediscovering it may be valid. However, I think the overall lack of focused message hampers it from being a truly emotional or even memorable movie. For all of his personal warts, Gibson's performance might be the most centered of the bunch and is certainly worth viewing as it might be his best and deepest. And if he continues to churn out performances of this caliber, I hope he personal redemption comes soon after.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The Beaver appears in an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p presentation that looks fine. Flesh tones are accurate, though a little inconsistent when it comes to detail at times. That said, each wrinkle in Gibson's face is discernible throughout. The color palette is muted, with a lot of yellow and grey for most of the film, but the painting at the end of the film looks vibrant without being oversaturated. It's not the best Blu-ray I've seen, but it does look solid.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround for the film. It's not called upon to do much, but when it does, it handles the work adequately. Dialogue is strong in the front of the soundstage and requires little adjustment, and while channel panning and directional effects may be rare (to say nothing of the subwoofer), this dialogue driven affair isn't going to ask the speakers to do much work. It's natural-sounding and clean listening material, which is what you want it to be.
Foster provides a commentary that is a little too intellectual for the room. Sure, she gets into some scene breakdown and has some production recollection, the latter is scarce while the former is used to break up long stretches of watching the movie. It's not a knock on her as a person or anything, but commentaries feel a little uneasy for her and thus the track feels a little wasted to the viewer. From there, "Everything is Going to Be O.K." (12:06) is a making-of look at the film, featuring thoughts and insight to the material from the cast, and how each came to the material, wrapping up with their thoughts on Foster the director. This piece is better than the commentary in all honesty. Even the "puppet casting" is touched on. While the overall content is hardly original, the way it's discussed was engaging. Two deleted scenes (4:52) are the only other things on the disc.
The Beaver is a nice spot in time to see where Mel's head might have been and as things turned out, it's in the head of a better than expected performance, to go along with a solid cast. Technically the film is decent, but where it fails is in the story, and that's the biggest souring moment for me. Definitely worth watching to see Gibson's job, but unless you're writing a book on the production I wouldn't recommend buying it.