USA/United Arab Emirates
89 minutes

Jodie Foster's third directorial effort is, like its predecessors Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays, a tale of a broken family trying to mend itself. In shooting Kyle Killen's widely praised but pegged-as-unfilmable script, though, ms Foster may have bitten off slightly more than she could chew – which is not to say that she goes about it the wrong way. She doesn't: her straight-forward presentation of the tale of suicidally depressed toy executive Walter Black (Mel Gibson), brought back from the brink by a tough-love hand puppet that allows his id a free pass, mirrors mr. Killen's Charlie-Kaufmanesque approach of treating the absurd as a normal presence.

     The trick lies in finding the correct balance between eccentricity and convention, and at times there's not enough of one and/or too much of the other. This is unhelped by mr. Killen's device of juxtaposing Walter Black's return from the abyss with his older son Porter's (Anton Yelchin) coming-of-age tale, struggling with his own demons as he graduates from high school. The idea that salvation – any salvation – may be yet another crutch resonates poignantly all through mr. Gibson's gutsy performance as Walter (shot well before the recent media meltdown) but it echoes throughout ms. Foster's smart, attentive handling of her cast, unafraid to either look their failures in the eyes or avoid passing any sort of moral judgment. Life is hard enough for things to be boxed simply in clear-cut drawers – such is the message of this wonderfully layered character piece.
     The Beaver does wallow a little bit too much in pat self-help analogies and its narrative arc is somewhat predictable. But ms. Foster avoids any sense of definite closure in favour of a hopeful open-endedness, and deals level-headedly, seriously and provocatively with a serious theme. While not a perfect film, it's a brave, worthy one. 

Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster; Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones, Riley Thomas Stewart.
     Directed by ms. Foster; produced by Steve Golin, Keith Redmon, Ann Ruark; written by Kyle Killen; music by Marcelo Zarvos; director of photography (colour, DeLuxe digital intermediate, Panavision widescreen), Hagen Bogdanski; production designer, Mark Friedberg; costume designer, Susan Lyall; film editor, Lynzee Klingman. 
     A Summit Entertainment/Participant Media presentation, in association with Imagenation Abu Dhabi, of an Anonymous Content production. (US distributor and world sales, Summit Entertainment.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), May 31st 2011. 


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