Is "The Beaver" as compelling as the man?
It's a question worth asking as the film hits theaters today. Much of the conversation around "The Beaver" has centered on its star, Mel Gibson, and his spate of personal problems -- the domestic violence claim, which his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva dropped this week, the recorded rants leaked online, the substance abuse issues.
On top of all that, in "The Beaver" -- which is directed by and co-stars Jodie Foster -- Gibson plays a gravely depressed man who turns to a beaver hand puppet in an attempt to revive his life. Stuffed animal aside, the character hits pretty close to home.
"It delves into the psyche of a man who's breaking down," Foster told ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers." "Mel's been through a lot. He's someone who's searching and questioning. I hope, I believe, a film like this can have a very cathartic effect on Mel."
Great for Gibson, but will people see the movie? Actors like Alec Baldwin and Rob Lowe have transcended scandal and gone on inhabit roles that don't remind audiences of the expletive-laden voice mail they left their daughter (in Baldwin's case) or the sex tape they made with an underage girl (Lowe).
With other stars, like Charlie Sheen, it's difficult to see them overcoming the general impression that they're mentally unstable, manic womanizers.
Mel Gibson's Life Overshadows Work
Gibson's been down this road before. "Apocalypto," in 2006, came out less than six months after a DUI arrest in which he spewed anti-Semitic slurs at authorities. The incident got scores of headlines and brought multiple public apologies from Gibson. Still, "Apocalypto" was the No. 1 movie the weekend it opened, bringing in more than $15 million.
"The Beaver" is a smaller-scale film. It's not shooting for those kinds of numbers. But an audience would be nice.
"No one will be able to see his performance in 'The Beaver' clearly now," lamented co-star Jennifer Lawrence in an interview with W magazine. "Even if Mel Gibson is great in the movie, I'm afraid no one will go."
The studio was afraid too. Foster said Summit Entertainment pushed back "The Beaver's" release date several times because "they wanted the film to be the focus." Foster said still worries if Gibson's personal life will keep potential viewers away.
"Can you separate out what you know about a celebrity?" she asked on "Popcorn." "I don't know if other people can."
For Gibson, ultimately, who sees the film may not matter. He cashed in with "The Passion of the Christ," which despite its $30 million production cost, has made more than $600 million to date.
Maybe that's why he hasn't made the press rounds to promote "The Beaver." Last month, in the only interview he's given since the Grigorieva tapes leaked, he told DeadlineHollywood.com that if Hollywood doesn't want him, he'll happily ride off into the sunset.
"I don't care if I don't act anymore," he said. "I could easily not act again. It's not a problem."