In the months since star Mel Gibson's brutal voice mails to a former girlfriend went public, Jodie Foster's The Beaver has been held out as his last chance at career salvation. For a man who has starred in some of the most succesful movies of all-time, this is problematic. Foster's independent film has no gangsters, kidnappers, or red coats for Gibson to foil. It's just a quiet story about a man under strain--played by a man under strain--who only interacts with the world through stuffed beaver. Based on the responses to the film's premiere at SXSW in Austin last night. Foster attended; Gibson stayed in California and turned himself over to the police for booking on assault charges stemming from a January 2010 incident. The Beaver may be a nice enough movie, but not one that will make anyone forget Gibson's past pyrotechnics, on-screen and off.
- First, the whole beaver thing. Not to be snide, but what's the deal with that? Slash Film's Peter Sciretta doesn't know. "The core problem," he writes, "iis that the entire film hinges on the audience to buy into the ridiculous premise" of a man using a puppet to communicate with outsiders It doesn't even matter that "Gibson gives it his best, and delivers a great performance...if you have any problems buying into the premise, this film doesn't work."
- Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells was more generous, but sensed formulaic staleness lurking beneath the kooky plot hook. Foster's film "all right, not bad, a decent film, a respectable film...but nobody's going to do cartwheels over it." Gibson "deserves points and respect for nailing the Walter role and giving it hell in both senses of the term." But it's never more interesting or compelling than your average "sad and red-eyed and rather distressed family drama."
- Indie Wire's Eric Kohn agreed with Wells. Despite the combustible pairing of a radioactive lead and a stuffed beaver, Foster has managed to make a "leisurely drama that neither provides the beleaguered actor with decisive comeback material nor further muddies his tarnished image." In other words, it's a wash.
- The Guardian's Catherine Shoard didn't like the film, but notes the SXSW audience seemed to. They responded not with cat calls but with "benign appreciation...neither protesting nor pitching anything but the gentlest question to the director in the Q&A afterward." There's no separating the struggles of the character with the struggles of the actor. Foster has made sure of this, and her film is so "freighted with retrospective relevance to Gibson's real-life situation it makes you gasp." If audiences respond the way they did in Austin, The Beaver seems "unlikely to hail the end of Mel."