Opening Weekend: The Beaver and The Bang Bang Club

Watching Mel Gibson try to bluff his way out of depression is more painful that seeing a burning man attacked with a machete

Ryan Phillippe as Greg Marinovich in 'The Bang Bang Club'

Somehow I’ve managed to escape the blockbuster wrath of Thor.  Sorry, but I wasn’table to attend the one preview screening. So you’re on your own with that one. But I’m counting myself lucky. Although I’m not in the habit of checking out the competition, I couldn’t resist looking up some of my colleagues’ dispatches. They’ve been talking about the Thor experience like groggy war correspondents crawling from the rubble of a carpet-bomb raid. Gotta love A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times, which starts like this: “As I stumbled out of the Imax multiplex all-media advance screening of “Thor,” depositing my 3-D glasses in the appropriate bin, I thought of seeking shelter: in a nearby bar; under a passing bus; in the velvet shadows of an art house playing the longest, slowest, most obscure movie imaginable. But when something like “Thor” comes to town, there is really no refuge to be found in drink, death or subtitles . . . ”

I have, however, seen The Beaver and The Bang Bang Club, two titles that could compete for the Best Unintended Double Entendre Award. The Beaver, which could be called The Penance of Mel Gibson, is an earnest drama that stands as a monument the undying loyalty of Gibson’s friend Jodie Foster, who directs the film, co-stars as his wife, and has been burning up the promo circuit defending the disgraced actor. (There must be a special VIP room in heaven for this kind of extreme self-sacrifice). The Bang Bang Club is a Canadian co-production based on the true story of four fearless combat photographers who documented a hidden civil war in South Africa during the early 1990s. Believe it or not, watching Mel Gibson’s powerful yet cringe-worthy performance as a toy executive trying to bluff his way out of depression with a hand-puppet is  more painful than seeing a man set ablaze with gasoline and attacked with a machete in The Bang Bang Club. Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to slow down and gawk at a grisly accident site, I suggest you take a pass on The BeaverThe Bang Bang Club has bracing scenes of graphic violence, but it’s a highly watchable, entertaining story of old-school combat photography, with an eye to authenticity, even if the story’s political context gets lost in the dust. I like films about photographers; they make more visual sense than films about writers. And this one is beautifully shot and well acted—rising start Canadian Taylor Kitsch gives an especially strong performance. For more a more detailed look at The Bang Bang Club, go to my piece in this week’s magazine: Sex, drugs and combat photography. For my interview with Beaver director Jodie Foster, go to: Jodie Foster on the ‘broken’ Mel Gibson. And for the full transcript of that interview, click on: Foster transcript.

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