A week after actor/director/official Jesus biographer Mel Gibson was sentenced to three years' probation for domestic violence, the Academy Award-winner is facing a new trial in the court of public opinion: The People vs. "The Beaver."
The verdict: Not bad!
Director and co-star Jodie Foster's loony-seeming art film, in which Gibson plays a man whose cure for the blues is the eponymous hand puppet, premiered at SXSW last night to a packed audience. According to Deadline, there was no protest or outrage towards Foster or the disgraced Gibson (who was not in attendance) but rather a show of respect and even applause.
As for the critical reaction, many seem to dam Gibson with faint praise (Get it? Beaver? Dam?), but are less enthusiastic about the film itself and certain tonal issues it has. Here are some select quotes from critics who attended the screening in Austin…
"The troubled actor delivers a performance very few could pull off as a depressed father who begins communicating through a hand puppet, but Foster doesn't know how to manage it or navigate the script's seismic tonal shifts, and ends up producing a film that's deeply strange, yet incapable of leaving an impression. Absent Gibson's presence, the Summit release would be a modest arthouse draw; with it, it's anyone's guess." - Andrew Barker, Variety
"Walter is a successful but chronically depressed and alcohol-abusing man who's watching helplessly as his life unravels around him. It's hard to tell if any of Gibson's performance is informed by his personal life but watching his work in the film, you can't help but wonder if he dug deep into his own psyche to tackle the role." – Mike Sampson, JoBlo
"Whether awkwardly failing to hang himself in a bathtub or beating himself up with a guitar, Gibson demonstrates an expansive madness that suggests a much darker, more involving psychological transition. No matter how straight Foster makes the material, 'The Beaver' only succeeds when it veers off the beaten path." - Eric Kohn, Indiewire
"Gibson gives it his best, and delivers a great performance — but it just isn’t enough to get me to care about the character’s well being or even believe the concept as a whole." –Peter Sciretta, /Film
"The audience in Austin responded with benign appreciation throughout, neither protesting nor pitching anything but the gentlest question to the director in the Q&A afterwards. If their reaction is representative, this is unlikely to hail the end of Mel. It may even mark his public rehabilitation." - Catherine Shoard, The Guardian
"It really is a shame that Mel Gibson is being hidden from the press. His performance in The Beaver is a fantastic and introspective." –Eric Vespe, aka Quint, Aint It Cool (via Twitter)
"THE BEAVER is a high-concept Disney dad w/ a suicidal streak. didactic, clumsy, & full of good things that deserve better. LIFE AS A PUPPET." – David Ehrlich, Cinematical (via Twitter)
"Keeping 'The Beaver' powerful and moving despite having a hand puppet was a tough task, and there were moments where Foster slips up, especially towards the end when Walter decides he wants his life back, and the two sides of his personality duke it out. It felt like I had seen it before dozens of times." - Jonathan Sullivan, The Film Stage
"For her third film, the not-very-prolific director chooses an unflinching look at mental illness presented as an it's-not-a-comedy-but-how-can-I-not-laugh genre mash-up. 'The Beaver' may as well have a funny hat montage, but it also has two well-penned monologues that seem dispatched from the very edge of suicidal abyss. It is an overreaching film, but there are enough good moments to keep audiences engaged beyond just wanting to see Mel Gibson act like a maniac." –Jordan Hoffman, UGO