Before the packed SXSW world premiere of The Beaver, the new Jodie Foster movie starring Mel Gibson, there was an interestingly anxious energy in the air. What would it be like to see Gibson on screen again? Could an audience give themselves over to his portrait of a severely depressed man who copes by communicating with the world with a beaver hand puppet? Or would his ugly tape-recorded voice, which too many indulged in listening to when his rageful phone conversations with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva went public last year, play as background noise?
Here’s the thing: In the film, Gibson plays a man who hates himself, a flattened, desperate father who has made a wreck of his family (Foster plays his wife; the deeply interesting young actor Anton Yelchin his teenage son). His demons are dark and powerful, and yet the performance is quiet and dear. In some ways, it’s the only role I can imagine inspiring any compassion in audiences for Mel Gibson.
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