The Beaver and Hobo with a Shotgun

The latest from Mel Gibson and Rutger Hauer

The Beaver

It’s not often that a popular actor sunk in disgrace and surrounded by media and movie-biz hostility can mount a comeback. Fatty Arbuckle—who was famously railroaded—never managed it; and Jeffrey Jones probably never will. So The Beaver is a triumph for Mel Gibson. Diving down into the alcoholism and manic depression he has implicated in his appalling behavior in recent years, Gibson has resurfaced with one of his most moving performances. This is all the more remarkable because the film’s premise seems so wildly unlikely, if not ludicrous.

Gibson’s character is Walter Black, the successful—or once-successful—CEO of a New York toy company. Walter is being crushed to the ground by clinical depression and has just about given up hope. He’s tried some desperate therapies—from drum circles to self-flagellation—but now maintains on heavy meds. At work he’s a zombie; his staff is demoralized and profits are down. At home he spends most of his time in bed, smothering his pain in sleep. His loyal wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), has stuck by him; but while the youngest of their two sons, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), still loves his dad, the oldest, teenage Porter (the excellent Anton Yelchin), has turned away in contempt.

Rooting around in some castoff junk one day, Walter finds an old hand puppet, a cute, nubbly beaver. When Meredith finally reaches the end of her marital tether and tells him to move out of the house, Walter takes the beaver with him. Checking into a motel, he gets drunk in his room and suddenly hears a voice: “Oi!” The Cockney accent is familiar, and at first we wonder if Walter has suddenly been joined by Michael Caine. But no—it’s the beaver. “I’m here to save your goddamned life,” says the puppet, no longer quite so cute.

From this point, it takes a special kind of commitment—by both Gibson and Foster, who also directed—to keep the story from lurching into absurdity. (Foster starred with Gibson in the 1994 Maverick, and has remained an unswerving defender through all his years of self-inflicted trauma.) Walter discovers that by speaking through the beaver, he can reconnect with the world. He takes it with him everywhere. And while it’s bizarre at first to see Gibson speaking while the puppet moves its mouth (there’s no pretense of ventriloquism), we slowly accept it, as do the people in Walter’s life.

The script, by TV writer Kyle Killen, is shaped like a classic Hollywood heart-warmer. Empowered by the beaver, Walter sets out to turn his life around, and some viewers are bound to find his journey toward redemption too facile. They also may not entirely buy into the parallel narrative involving Porter and a pretty classmate (Jennifer Lawrence, scoring again), which mirrors Walter’s own mental turmoil. But while the story is funny and touching in an unapologetically mainstream way, it also grows unexpectedly dark, and then pitch-black, and you realize the filmmakers have more in mind than formulaic tear-mongering.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Gibson, with his wounded gaze and eloquent variations of posture, bringing such resonance to this character. At one point Walter says, “People seem to love a train wreck, as long as it’s not them”—and the real-life overtone is unmistakable. The redemption the movie most strongly suggests is Mel Gibson’s own.  

Hobo with a Shotgun   

Once you’ve taken in the title—or the two-minute fake trailer to which it was originally attached—you’ve pretty much gotten the joke that director Jason Eisener has now inflated into Hobo with a Shotgun. It’s a good joke, and Eisener works some funny changes on it, but it’s not necessarily a gag you want to see elaborated for 86 minutes.

It goes like this. Unnamed vagrant (Rutger Hauer) rides the rails into corrupt town terrorized by raving maniac Drake (Brian Downey) and his depraved family and followers. The hobo sees innocent citizens beaten on the streets, limbs crushed, heads yanked off, and demented bikini girls dancing through showers of blood. There’s also a pedophile Santa Claus cruising around with a little girl held captive in his car. Dim of wit though he be, the hobo is appalled. His only dream had been to panhandle enough money to buy a second-hand lawnmower and pursue a late-life career in yard work. But when he comes upon a used shotgun in a pawn shop, he begins to look upon lawn order in a new light.

The movie is a familiar exercise in top-this provocation: a homeless mother firebombed, a passel of school kids roasted alive, a bound man battered by topless sluts with baseball bats. It’s all played for laughs, of course, because nearly 50 years after Herschell Gordon Lewis pioneered this sort of thing, who is there left to be shocked by it? Hauer brings iconic heft to the proceedings, if not much else (his hobo is barely a character), and Molly Dunsworth adds dabs of sweet gumption as the gold-hearted hooker with whom he falls in. But as a tribute to the decades of exploitation films that followed in Lewis’ wake, Hobo is all too fond: Its vintage low-budget cruddiness grows tiresome, and the one-note fun stretches thin.

Eisener is a promising newcomer, though. His original two-minute Hobo may have won a “grindhouse trailer” competition conducted by exploitation revivalist Robert Rodriguez in 2007, but his next effort, the 16-minute Treevenge—in which ticked-off Christmas trees strike back at their Yuletide tormentors—is a funnier and better-made film than that one or this. Could he become the next Edgar Wright? He’s quick and clever, and when he moves up out of the fanboy trash-tribute ghetto, we’ll see.

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be published in November by St. Martin’s Press.


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  • ||

    Hobo with a Shotgun was pretty good. Sometimes you just want some violence, some shotguns, some laffs, and some Rutger Fucking Hauer.

    Could have been about 5 to 10 mins shorter. Some neat ideas and some nifty synth tracks.

  • ||

    Love that Hauer!

    Gibson's a screwed up alcoholic, but the man has done some nice work in film.

  • ||

    Year of Living Dangerously was rather good.

  • ||

    He's done a few good serious films, and he was a very good action star.

    One film I like quite a bit that doesn't get the love his other films do is Payback.

  • Rock Action ||

    I did too. It's probably one of the few movies I like him in, actually. I almost ordered the director's cut, because he claimed that in order to get the movie made, Gibson changed his character into a sympathetic one instead of the violent and morally questionable anti-hero he was written as. I wanted to see if I would like it as much. Probably not.

  • Paul||

    I'm not sure if I've ever seen Gibson be "bad".

    Was I the only one who liked the "Million Dollar Hotel"?

  • Crickets||

  • ||

    WE need another Mad Max movie NOW!!!!!

    And this time they better not fuck it up.

    Note: Road Warrior is one of those rare sequels that is better then the original....but yeah thunderdome sucked.

  • Corporate Drone||

    Given enough explosions, I could probably watch a 3-hour epic of Rutger Hauer shooting bad guys. It would STILL be better than 90% of the shitfilms that are coming out this summer.

  • ||

    Yep, it had a tiny budget and was better than 95% of movies that get released at the cinema.

    It's pretty brisk, and entertaining for ~ 90% of its running time. And the sense of humor is very similar to the strain from my part of NZ. Can't ask for much more. :)

  • Ziskey||

    Kurt, is Hobo more of a sequel to Surviving The Game or more of a Survivng The Game meets Down And Out In Beverly Hills? Thanks.

  • stoner||

    Kurt's not here, man.

  • Ink cartridge Same||

    Did anyone see Aplocalyptica? Amazing film

  • Paul||

    I thought it was very good, but it wasn't quite what it was hyped to be.

    I thought that the story was thinner than I was expecting. It ends up being a chase film.

  • Spur||

    Apocalypto was a great film and done during the first big MG scandal - just keep the guy on a movie set behind or in front of the camera and he's fine.

  • ||

    All that Gibson has done is say really bad things while he is drunk or in emotional distress.

    It is weird that Hollywood of all places would dismiss him simply for that.

    He is like an Australian Bukowski who doesn't get into violent altercations. How can Hollywood hate that?

    I think his fall from grace has more to do with his politically incorrect religion and Hollywood's hatred of it then anything.

  • Paul||

    All that Gibson has done is say really bad things while he is drunk or in emotional distress.

    It is weird that Hollywood of all places would dismiss him simply for that.

    You sir, are no student of Hollywood. One can say the right really bad things when drunk or in emotional distress, or the wrong things when in said state.

    Gibson chose wrong.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    It was really well done, but I don't see it aging as well as Passion. There has to be some sort of ingrained cultural connection for these things to resonate beyond the moment of their creation. While it does have the themes of the struggle of urban vs. rural populations and the cynical manipulation of the masses by those in power, the setting has less of a chance of resonating with viewers in the coming decades and will likely diminish its relevance, IMO.

  • Paul||

    Oh come on!!! When I saw The Hauer in the Hobo trailer, I thought, "This has to kick ass!"

  • ||

    Apocalypto. It really was a nice piece of work. Gutsy film for Gibson to make, too.

  • omg||

    look upon lawn order

    Someone call the pun police!

  • Pun SWAT Team||

    *serves a pun warrant in a pre-dawn raid after mowing down Loder's door*

  • Otto||

    If The Beaver is successful, I wonder if they're going to have a Conky film.

  • ||

    Conky never really died, did he? Bubbles pieced him back together in season 7 before drowning the puppet later.

    You could piece together a couple of movies from seasons 4 and 7:
    "Conky"
    "Conky's Revenge: the Return of Conky".

  • ||

    Is there a filthy hobo equivalent of the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test?

  • Warty||

    "I'm gonna sleep in your bloody carcasses! Tonight!"

    "I want that hobo's head on a plate! And whoever brings it to me gets all my broads!"

  • j||

    here's your "broad"
    http://rctlfy.wordpress.com/

  • ||

    Well the trailer of hobo with a shotgun has the right John Carpenteresqe music.

    I think i will watch it.

  • ||

    The soundtrack isn't that good but it has some solid moments. It should've used the minimal synth stuff more frequently and for more extended periods though.

  • castor||

    Any one else been waiting to see Jodie Foster in a Beaver movie?

  • ||

    Jeffrey Jones was busted as a pedophile. Mel Gibson got drunk and yelled at his gold digging wife. Big difference to Americans there. Most of them have gotten drunk. Most won't tolerate pedophiles. Mel Gibson isn't really fighting the general public, he's fighting left wing Hollywood and the Christian-hating media. He probably THINKS he's fighting the public, but he's not. I've seen enough thread responses, even from liberals and heard from people....most still love him. The media hates him. They hated The Passion, the general public wildly embraced it. (And no, it wasn't just a few church people watching it 723 times. Literally every person I knew had either seen it, or was going to see it, or was going to buy it when it came out on DVD. And I'm talking EVERYBODY. Customers would tell me about it. Co-workers, friends. My mom hates movies. She bought a copy.)

    Gibson said rather excitingly in an interview before he went Oksana crazy that he wanted to direct a movie about the Maccabees and their fight against Antiochus IV, who was a model for the Anti-Christ, in ancient times. It could be made for cheap, even if he went all out and got exactly the movie he wanted. There's no need for million dollar transforming robots. And it would not only kick ass up and down the block all the way to the back alley, but would make another billion dollars:
    -It would certainly make the Jews happy - It's their story!
    -It would make the Christians happy - it's in their Bible.
    -It would make the waiting-for-the-end-of-the-worlders happy, because it has strong parallels to end times beliefs.
    -It would make movie fans estatic, because it's DIFFERENT, in a time of perpetual remakes and sequels.
    -It would be in the same vein as the Passion story, but would be different, so not only would everyone who saw the Passion go watch it, but if anyone didn't because they've seen other Jesus movies, they'd jump at the chance to see a religious movie that's different.
    -Even people who like religious movies secretly want to watch a well-made, professionally done kick ass action religious movie, and not the low-budget ones so often made.
    -The crowds that wouldn't bother with a low-budget religious movie but would jump at the chance for an action swords and sandals epic would eat up ANYTHING different, and well made, and Mel Gibson is a master at delivering these kinds of movies.
    -No one's ever done it before.

    He's almost guaranteed a huge profit if he makes it. Come on Mel! Stop fucking around with those tabloids and bullshit, and get back on top with your Maccabees movie!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • seguin||

    That actually sounds pretty f*ckin cool.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    I always LOL when people scream about Mel, "HE'S A BIGOT!!!" Yeah, well, so is most of the world's population--Mel just has the misfortune of holding a type of bigotry that isn't considered socially acceptable right now.

  • ||

    -It would certainly make the Jews happy - It's their story!
    -It would make the Christians happy - it's in their Bible.
    -It would make the waiting-for-the-end-of-the-worlders happy, because it has strong parallels to end times beliefs.

    It isn't in all Christian Bibles, just the Catholic ones. Plus, American Jews wouldn't see it, because their Judaism is almost always secondary to their PC-ism. Finally, end-of-the-world types are oblivious to parallels. If they noticed that the past was scary like the present, they'd stop being end-of-the-worlders.

    Still, I'd love to see it get made. It's news to me. Mel might be a jerk, but he's a star, and those are rare.

  • ||

    -It would certainly make the Jews happy - It's their story!
    -It would make the Christians happy - it's in their Bible.
    -It would make the waiting-for-the-end-of-the-worlders happy, because it has strong parallels to end times beliefs.

    It isn't in all Christian Bibles, just the Catholic ones. Plus, American Jews wouldn't see it, because their Judaism is almost always secondary to their PC-ism. Finally, end-of-the-world types are oblivious to parallels. If they noticed that the past was scary like the present, they'd stop being end-of-the-worlders.

    Still, I'd love to see it get made. It's news to me. Mel might be a jerk, but he's a star, and those are rare.

  • Corporate Drone||

    p.s. Kurt Loder liked the remake of Arthur, his judgement is therefore highly suspect.

  • wingnutx||

    "Hobo With A Shotgun" is pretty good as long as you like Troma-style mayhem.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Rooting around in some castoff junk one day, Walter finds an old hand puppet, a cute, nubbly beaver. When Meredith finally reaches the end of her marital tether and tells him to move out of the house, Walter takes the beaver with him. Checking into a motel, he gets drunk in his room and suddenly hears a voice: “Oi!” The Cockney accent is familiar, and at first we wonder if Walter has suddenly been joined by Michael Caine. But no—it’s the beaver. “I’m here to save your goddamned life,” says the puppet, no longer quite so cute.

    Geez, they're recycling ideas from defunct WB network shows now?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unhappily_Ever_After

  • ||

    ^^^^ This
    I still believe if that show hadn't come on the heels of "Married, With Children" and had allowed for some actual character development, it could have been brilliant.

    Also, Nikki Cox.

  • Robert||

    Yeah, that was the 1st thing I thought of when I read the beaver business too, and I agree with your assessment of that program. "Married" hung around too long, so that its avg. quality level sank. "Unhappily" was actually better than it on avg. by then.

    I never quite got straight the geography -- were they divorced and living in the same house, or what?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Robert, I was too busy staring at Nikki Cox's boobs to notice the show's premise, but I think the story is that they split up, he moved out, and then had to move back into the basement or something. I don't think anyone really cared once Cox became a breakout character.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    "Married" hung around too long, so that its avg. quality level sank.

    You know when I think it finally jumped the shark? After the episode where Al gets his Kaiser toilet bowl. Once he had that in place, why would he even bother interacting with his family ever again?

  • Edwin||

    the premise/titel "Hobo with a shotgun" is all the impetus I need to watch that movie

  • Max||

    wat women want best movi!!!

  • sologn||

    is good

  • Trident||

    Mel Gibson is a dumbass.

    Instead of saying stupid shit in a drunken haze, he should have raped a 13-year-old teenage girl like Roman Polanksi did.
    He would still be worshipped in Hollywood today and probably get an Academy Award just to say "fuck you" to the common people who just won't get that Hollywood knows what morality is.

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