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Entries in Mel Gibson (2)

Friday
May062011

The Beaver

They say there are no more original ideas left in Hollywood, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything like The Beaver. If you’ve seen a film where a man lives vicariously through a beaver puppet on his arm, then you’re more cinematically cultured than I. This is an odd little movie with an inconsistent tone and a subplot that doesn’t gel with the main story, but it’s nevertheless intriguing and easily watchable, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a hopelessly depressed individual. His marriage to Meredith (Jodie Foster) is falling apart and his oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), does everything he can to not be like him. (If Mel Gibson was your father, you’d probably do the same.) Before he retires to a hotel room for the night (after having been kicked out of the house), he throws some of his possessions away in a nearby dumpster. Inside he spots a beaver puppet and is oddly drawn to it, so he snatches it out and heads to the room. After a failed attempt at suicide, he decides to use the puppet to start over and informs his family and friends to address it as if it were him. His name is The Beaver (Mel Gibson’s left hand) and he’s there to save Walter’s life.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody condones the things Mel Gibson has said and done in the past. Frankly, he has become a deplorable person, taking an incredible nose dive after being praised as a beacon of Christianity with his immensely popular film, The Passion of the Christ. But I’m not here to judge the man. I’m here to judge the actor and in that regard, Gibson reaches sheer brilliance. He has always been a talented filmmaker, in front of and behind the camera, but never have I seen him put such veracity into a role. He gives a nuanced performance where even the slightest change in mood is brilliantly expressed, perhaps because the character, who is misunderstood and merely wants to start over, so closely resembles his own life. Regardless, he wonderfully draws out the emotion, forcing even the most jaded Gibson haters to forget about the man and invest themselves in the character.

An explanation as to why he’s depressed, however, is left unexplained. It’s easy enough to put a reason together given the current state of his family, but some moviegoers may want more. I was ok with its ambiguity, though, because one doesn’t need a reason to be depressed. Depending on which study you read, anywhere between 8 and 26 percent of American adults suffer from some type of mental illness and although you can trace some cases to certain sources, most simply exist.

If anything, I was disappointed with how the illness was explored. Its presentation was fine, but its analysis is questionable, which is where the inconsistent tone comes into play. The Beaver is a movie that presents a man who is trying to better himself and overcome a deadly illness that had him on the brink of suicide, but at times it felt like we were supposed to point and laugh. A movie about a man who has his hand inside of a beaver the whole time (a premise that opens itself up to a host of scrutinizing jokes) already has many challenges to face and it doesn’t win some of them. Just when it looks like it’s going to settle down as a serious look at mental disorders, a humorous moment comes and throws it off track. Of course, some of its more somber sections don’t work either, like a late scene where Walter wrestles with the puppet. Despite having serious dramatic intentions, it brings to mind those “Saturday Night Live” sketches where a stuffed animal is attached to a performer as he or she rolls around on the ground faking danger for chuckles.

As for the subplot, it revolves around young Porter as he courts classmate and cheerleader Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). Although it works on its own terms, it is only loosely connected to Walter’s plight. Had the two stories been intertwined to a greater degree rather than working as two separate entities, The Beaver would have had a smoother flow, which could have offset its tonal problems. It could have been something that was truly great. As it stands, however, it’s merely good.

The Beaver receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jan292010

Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness has an impressive resume. It's directed by Martin Campbell, the man who helmed the excellent James Bond reboot Casino Royale, written by William Monahan, writer of the Oscar winning picture The Departed and stars Mel Gibson, an excellent actor in his first role in seven years, since 2003's The Singing Detective. It has all the parts needed to come together and create an amazing, visceral action picture. So where did things go wrong? Or more precisely, how in the world did these talents come together to create such a mediocre product?

The film follows Craven (Mel Gibson), a Boston detective who has just picked up his daughter (Bojana Novakovic) from the airport. Once she arrives, however, she starts to puke and her nose bleeds uncontrollably. In a panic, she tells her father she needs to go to the hospital, but before they do she insists on telling him something. Before she can get it out, a man in a ski mask appears at the front door and kills her with a shotgun blast to the chest. Craven, now a man with nothing to live for, goes on the hunt to find her killer and unravel the conspiracy that led to her demise.

So basically what I'm saying is that it's your typical revenge flick. Although this does differentiate itself a bit from the others, namely because his kid dies for a reason rather than just plain bad luck (like in 2007's Death Sentence), which gives the protagonist something to track other than the murderer, it's still a routine revenge movie where a vigilante father goes berserk on the baddies with a wide assortment of firearms.

Which is fine. I'm all for a good revenge movie, but Edge of Darkness fails to keep consistent with the whole novelty of the sub-genre. More often than not, nobody really cares about the fallen family member so much as the bullets that fly afterwards. This is no different. Craven's daughter is onscreen for such a small amount of time that it's impossible to truly care about her, even after she's filled with holes, but the movie nevertheless tries to wrangle some teardrops out of nothing. After she is killed, Craven takes her ashes to the beach and dumps them in the ocean, reflecting back on the film's opening 30 seconds that shows an old family video where she is playing in the water as a kid, which is hardly a set-up for an emotional payoff. My complaint isn't the fact that the film lacked emotion. Rather, it's that it tried too hard to force that emotion through when none was really needed.

Now, there are only a couple of things I hated in Edge of Darkness and for every bad thing, there's a great one to balance it out. For instance, the acting is terrific. It's a return to form for Mel Gibson. His gritty determination as the hellbent father vowing justice for his fallen daughter is played pitch perfectly, even if he is forced to act out a few ridiculous scenes where he sees the ghost of her or hears her voice speaking to him. Couple him with another great actor, Ray Winstone, who plays a government operative sent to clean up their messes, and you have a sublime pair whose scenes play out like a fluid dance. Their dialogue together is wonderful and neither outshine the other. They simply do their part in telling the story. Their scenes together are easily the best part of this movie.

Unfortunately, the skillful panache of those scenes does little more than draw attention to how haphazard the rest of the production is. Some scenes don't fit into the flow of the story, working as an unnecessary way to break up the talking with some action, the material doesn't stay completely afloat during its two hour run time and the final shot of the movie is, I'm pretty sure, the dumbest possible way this thing could have ended.

That's not to say this is a bad movie. It's not. It's just a painfully mediocre one. I'm tempted to recommend Edge of Darkness anyway given the poor quality of movies this month, but it is in its failure to realize its own potential that prevents me from doing so.

Edge of Darkness receives 2.5/5