• Thu, May 5 2011

Mel Gibson and the ‘Beaver’ Dilemma: Loving the Acting But Not the Actor

On-screen in The Beaver, Mel Gibson is gripping as a once-great man laid low by depression, first elated by and then terrified of the brusque beaver puppet that takes over his life. Off-screen, we’ve witnessed his DUI bust, anti-Semitic rants, and raging phone calls to ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. Is it right to appreciate the effort an actor puts into a film when we know how offensive he is in real life?

I almost didn’t go see The Beaver (out tomorrow), not least because I didn’t think I could sit through two hours of Gibson playing a depressed man who undergoes a strange therapy by talking through a ratty old beaver hand puppet. I’m glad I did, because it’s a fantastic movie, a dark comedy that doesn’t shy away from the bleaker aspects of depression and self-loathing. Plus, the rest of the cast — Jodie Foster, Jennier Lawrence, Anton Yelchin — all turn in magnificent performances. But even though The Beaver has proven itself to be a solidly great film, I felt strange liking it so much.

Gibson playing depressed toymaker Walter Black is a frank, funny performance that, while it redeems the character, almost seems like it could redeem the actor. But in the few moments where the movie didn’t capture my attention, I was seized by a self-consciousness for letting my guard down. I couldn’t help thinking, if I were to make it public that I was impressed with Gibson, I was somehow aligning my beliefs with his actions.

With his recent interview with Deadline, it looks as if Gibson may be trying to help along that progress off-camera. He claims that the tapes that Grigorieva turned in to RadarOnline were edited, and that much of what he said was “at the height of a breakdown, trying to get out of a really unhealthy relationship.”  He acknowledges the celebrities, like Whoopi Goldberg and director Foster, who publicly came to his defense; as for those who didn’t, he says, “Why would anyone want to speak publicly and drag themselves through this crap?”

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