I love being wrong about movie first impressions. It can happen to any of us, but sometimes -- whether it be an unappealing trailer or the off screen antics of movie stars -- you're just not in the mood to see a certain movie when it's playing at the local cinema. Earlier this year, I had little interest in seeing 'The Beaver'; it seemed too cute, too over the top, too hipster for my sensibilities. But like I said, I love being wrong about movies, because 'The Beaver' is a terrific, captivating drama that, despite its bizarre concept, explores the effects of depression on an American family in an honest and entertaining way.
But let's back up for a second, there are a couple caveats. I realize, while 'The Beaver' worked for me, it may not hold cinematic water for everyone. There are currently two big buy-ins; you'll have to see if they matter to you personally. First, there's the Mel Gibson factor. If you hate Mel Gibson for whatever reason, you won't care about this movie at all and it will fail. Second is the concept itself. 'The Beaver' is about Walter Black (Gibson), a man so depressed he is losing everything. His company is in the toilet. His wife (Jodie Foster) kicks him out. His older son, Porter (Anton Yelchin, 'Star Trek') wants even less to do with him. And his youngest boy has become invisible at home and at school. Life sucks, and on the night Walter leaves home, he tries to take his own life and fails. When he wakes, the brown beaver hand puppet he had pulled from a dumpster starts talking (in a cockney accent) and tells Walter he, The Beaver, is going to save Walter's life. That's the second buy in. Can you handle the idea that a man has a psychotic break and, to deal with his own depression, creates an alter ego in the form of a puppet?
On paper, in trying to summarize that for you right now, it seems silly. It seems like the makings of a bad comedy or an ultra depressing indie drama.
And yet I'm here to say, if you take that leap with this film it works wonderfully.
Let's talk about the characters some more. I think this film succeeds because, despite the inherent bizarreness, it's a relatable, universal family drama. It's about a wife who loves her husband, but doesn't know how to help him. It's about a high school senior who falls in love with the most beautiful girl in school (as played by the ever captivating Jennifer Lawrence; 'Winter's Bone' and the upcoming 'Hunger Games' series) and learns she's much more interesting than she ever appeared on paper. It's about desperately wanting to be a good parent. It's about secrets and phobias and fears.
All of these themes and problems are handled beautifully by this impressive cast under the direction of Jodie Foster. Gibson's dueling accents and popping between characters is remarkable to watch. And underneath these shining performances, there's a terrific script written by Kyle Killen. You might not recognize him by name, but Killen also created the short-lived Fox television series, 'Lone Star' as well as the new NBC series, 'Awake,' which stars Jason Isaacs and will debut this fall. I have yet to read 'The Beaver' script, but the 'Awake' pilot is easily one of the best I've ever read. Killen's a fantastic writer, and together with Ms. Foster and her band of impeccable actors, the filmmakers here have created a heartfelt, human drama.
So is there anything I didn't like about the movie? Yes, I wasn't a fan of the musical score choices made. A little too cutesy French comedy for me (it kind of sounds like the '12 Monkeys' score) personally. Also, the world around Walter and the family was a little too eager and quick to accept The Beaver as a character. It seems to me that there would have been a few more questions, a few more doubters. Other than those couple things, 'The Beaver' was a delightful surprise of a movie, despite the dark subject matter. Imagine it, if you will, this film as a less stylized and ultimately, less tragic version of 'American Beauty.' It might not be for everyone, but like I said, I love being wrong about movie first impressions.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Beaver' comes to Blu-ray disc on a single, dual-layer 50GB BD disc that is Region A locked. Popping it into your player brings up a trailer for 'A Better Life' (another movie few people have scene that dares to ask Americans to feel sympathy for an illegal immigrant father trying to raise his son) and a PSA / puppet music video about depression from IAMALIVE.org. For second or interrupted viewings, the disc will automatically ask you if you'd like resume where you last left off.
'The Beaver' debuts on Blu-ray with a clear, detailed 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode in its native aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (enhanced for 16x9 televisions).
The film's color palette is quite cool and slightly de-saturated, but skin tones remain even and lifelike. Black levels are appropriately inky, though they tend to crush during darkly lit night scenes. As one would expect with a brand new film, there isn't a hint of scratches, dust, noise, or any other damage to the source material used for this transfer. Detail and surface textures often approach a 3D-like clarity, but oddly, an occasional soft shots appear every few scenes. This lack of sharpness appears to have been production mistakes (or perhaps even choices) as cutting between actors in certain scenes (such as the anniversary dinner) will toggle between one of them being in focus, and the other not.
Minor blemishes aside, this film generally impresses on Blu-ray and faithfully reproduces a film-like experience in the home.
Summit brings 'The Beaver' to Blu-ray with a slightly above average English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound track (a 5.1 Dolby Digital Espanol track is also available).
This is a well balanced, front-heavy mix common to dramas and comedies. The dialog sparkles, from Mel Gibson's deep, raspy Beaver Voice, or Jodie Foster's higher pitched natural tone. Though I didn't enjoy the music personally, it sounds crisp and clear filling all the front channels as well as rounding out the sides. LFE shows a welcome presence, supporting sound effects like hammering and the banging of one character's head against the wall. In the end, this sound track does everything it should to support the film itself, but lacks some detail in the rears in terms of location ambiance. Quite good, but nothing special.
Summit Entertainment also provides an English SDH and Espanol subtitle tracks.
As one would expect from a film that failed to do well theatrically, there are only a handful of supplements on 'The Beaver' Blu-ray release, including an Audio Commentary with director / co-star Jodie Foster, a pair of deleted scenes (HD, 4:52), and a short making-of featurette entitled 'Everything is Going to be O.K.' (HD, 12:06). Ms. Foster's commentary does have a few gaps, but when she is speaking, her insights into the characters, acting, and filmmaking process are informative and interesting. The deleted scenes are extensions of footage found in the movie, and were wisely cut for pacing and plotting reasons. The making-of documentary is far from "in depth", but a cut above most "EPK" style documentaries because they actors and directors take a few moments to examine the film's themes and the choices they made.
While 'The Beaver' won't be for everyone, if you don't loath Mel Gibson and can buy the concept behind a depressed man creating a psychological alter ego in the form of a puppet beaver, then you're in for a charming, honest film brimming was terrific performances from two generations of extremely talented actors. Though I haven't read it directly, Kyle Killen's script paved the way for a fine film which sparkles on Blu-ray thanks to very good video and audio. Fans of the film will definitely want to pick this up. For the rest of us, it's definitely worth a rent.