Mel Gibson is his own worst enemy these days. It’s hard to watch him play a depressed, mentally-unstable guy without thinking about his real-life antics (and let’s face it – they’ve been off the charts). And that’s a real shame. Because The Beaver happens to be a pretty good movie – and Gibson is very good in it, as is director/co-star Jodie Foster and the rest of the supporting cast.

If only we could roll the Gibson clock back a few years – to perhaps around the time of Braveheart or even Signs – then this is the type of indie movie/role that would have garnered the actor quite a bit of critical or even mainstream acclaim. I suspect, however, that Gibson’s personal crazy train is too far out of the station for that to happen. But for those who do choose to cut Gibson a break, or support Jodie Foster, or simply want to see a good psychological drama, then The Beaver is out there for ya.

Now, to the story itself: Gibson plays Walter Black, a toy executive, husband and father who’s become so mired in depression that suicide seems the only way out. But in his darkest hour, Walter finds solace and salvation in a hand puppet – a beaver that he imbues with an Irish accent. The two become – quite literally- inseparable. When he’s talking through the beaver (much as a ventriloquist might with a dummy alter-ego), Walter is confident, successful and happy again. His wife, played by Foster, tries to be supportive of Walter and his “prescription puppet” but it’s a daily struggle, filled with frustration, hope, and despair. The relationship between Walter and his two sons also plays into the drama, which delves into the hereditary aspects of depression and the physical and emotional manifestations of a pained existence. It sounds like heady stuff – and the whole beaver-puppet thing seems just plain weird – but in the end, the pieces fit.

The Beaver reminded me of the quirky 2007 indie Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling. Remember, Lars falls in love with a blow-up doll he bought off the Internet? That sounded preposterous too, but the film was surprisingly good. Same goes for The Beaver. Thankfully, it’s not an overly heavy or dark psychological drama (I don’t particularly like those). The Beaver has some light moments and quite a few poignant ones and is ultimately well-directed, well-acted and oddly compelling to watch… if you can forgive Mel his instability off-screen. It’s a tall order, I know.

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