Cu­ri­ous type of Mel- o’drama

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Movies -

AS they say, a lit­tle knowl­edge can do a lot of dam­age. And a lot of knowl­edge? You just don’t want to know. Such is the para­dox­i­cal plight fac­ing The Beaver, a pro­foundly strange con­coc­tion of black com­edy and bleak drama.

The film stars Mel Gib­son, a man whose per­sonal life in re­cent times can only be clas­si­fied as pro­foundly strange.

Though The Beaver was filmed in ad­vance of the mul­ti­ple melt­downs that trashed Gib­son’s good-guy per­sona for­ever, the ac­tor and the char­ac­ter he is play­ing are clearly grap­pling on some very rocky com­mon ground.

Try as you might, it is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate the two. And so, what was al­ready a rather freaky con­ceit for a movie un­in­ten­tion­ally morphs into a freak show.

Gib­son plays Wal­ter Black, a mid­dle-aged man who lit­er­ally ghost-walks through the first stages of this pic­ture in a near-sui­ci­dal state of de­pres­sion.

Alien­ated from his wife ( Jodie Fos­ter, who also di­rects) and two sons due to the ex­trem­ity of his con­di­tion, Wal­ter has tried ev­ery psy­chi­atric ther­apy known to man in the hope of find­ing a cure.

In one fi­nal act of de­fi­ant des­per­a­tion, Wal­ter takes his treat­ment into his own hands. Lit­er­ally.

Wal­ter de­cides to in­ter­act with those around him ex­clu­sively through a tatty old hand-pup­pet he calls ‘‘ The Beaver’’.

A no-non­sense go-get­ter with a wacky Cock­ney ac­cent and a spooky stare, The Beaver turns out to be just what Wal­ter needs to turn his life around.

Wal­ter wins his fam­ily back. His busi­ness is res­cued from the brink of bank­ruptcy. All those bad thoughts go away. And all be­cause he’s walk­ing through the world with a pup­pet perched on his right fist.

The film takes a sharp swerve into the dark zone in its later stretches, where Wal­ter at­tempts to wean him­self off his de­pen­dency on the tough-talk­ing toy.

A brave, baf­fling and bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence, The Beaver does have its mer­its as a movie, par­tic­u­larly for its frank and sin­cere take on men­tal ill­ness.

How­ever, Gib­son’s off-screen no­to­ri­ety cancels out what is hap­pen­ing on-screen at cru­cial junc­tures.

This is a gen­uine shame, be­cause there are as­pects to his raw, open-wound per­for­mance that are the work of a very fine ac­tor in­deed.

So what we have in The Beaver is a def­i­nite cu­rios­ity piece and a pos­si­ble ca­reer epi­taph, but not a com­plete mo­tion pic­ture.

LEIGH PAATSCH

the­beaver-movie. com

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