Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a chronically depressed, miserable man who has been lost in a dark cloud of despair for years. He has driven the toy company his father founded to the brink of bankruptcy and that's nothing compared to the damage he's done to his family. His youngest son (Riley Thomas Stewart) doesn't essentially doesn't have a father, his oldest son (Anton Yelchin) despises him, and his wife (Jodie Foster) has kicked him out of the house. As the voiceover tells us, Walter died inside long ago but his body didn't have the decency to follow suit. On a serious bender, Walter finds a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and when he comes to after a failed suicide attempt, he begins to speak to himself through the beaver (with a British accent, no less). He develops his own form of therapy, speaking only through the beaver and begins to reintegrate himself into the lives of his family members and his company with great success. Before long, however, Walter can no longer find the line of reality between himself and the beaver and watches as all the progress he had made washes away.
The similarities between Walter and Gibson himself are obvious and significant. Add in some unfortunate voicemail rants and a touch of anti-Semitism and this could play as a Gibson documentary. These similarities are also where "The Beaver" makes its money. Walter's transition seems authentic (to a point) as if Gibson himself is undergoing the therapy along with his character. He exhibits the right character traits of man who has lost his way and is struggling to find a way back and the work he does with facial expressions, body language, etc. is rich. It's quite possible that, as a Gibson fan and someone who wants to see him get back on track, I could be exaggerating the overall quality of his performance but I think a great deal is asked of him in this roll and he delivers. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a superb performance but it is solid and compelling and an example of just how good Gibson can be when he gives himself a chance.
The other elements within "The Beaver" represent a decisive step down from the work done by Gibson. Foster's character never really finds a foothold to become substantial and her work as director is satisfactory but unspectacular. Kyle Killen's script is uneven, too drawn out in some parts but rushed in others resulting in a film that doesn't develop quite the way I believe it was supposed to. And while I am generally down with a darker narrative, "The Beaver" is almost overwhelmed with it to the point of frustrating bleakness. Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence (the Valedictorian cheerleader) have some nice moments together but their relationship is poorly developed and is treated at times like a distraction from the storyline involving Walter. A lot could have been done with Yelchin's character and his relationship with Walter but it stagnates early on and just barely reaches for redemption in the end. All totaled, "The Beaver" is a good movie with one great performance that carries the film much further than it could have gone otherwise. It is a worthwhile viewing but not one that I'd look forward to seeing again.