Box office bites back as Gibson bombs again

It is a poignant film about a man with depression who finds salvation through a beaver glove puppet he takes everywhere and speaks through. More poignant still may be this: its star needs a little salvation himself and, according to the first weekend box office, this isn't the performance that will provide it.

While things may yet turn around for The Beaver, which stars Mel Gibson, the Hollywood actor with more image problems than there are stars on the Walk of Fame, the indications from its first days of business in the US are not good at all. With takings of just $104,000 and with a limited release in major cities it had already been branded a dud yesterday, even though plenty of the reviews had offered high praise.

There are various reasons why the movie – directed by and co-starring Jodie Foster, Gibson's long-time friend in Hollywood – is facing headwinds.

First, there was big competition at American cinemas at the weekend not least from the action drama Thor. Second, the film is quirky and has an independent film feel, ensuring it was never going to be a huge draw in spite of having a name like Gibson in the credits.

Or was it that name that poisoned the project from the outset? Its release was first set for last year and was delayed repeatedly because of the dire publicity that has beset Gibson, notably since his ugly split from an ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, which has led to a child custody battle; the release of entirely nasty voice messages left by him for her; and allegations of anti- Semitic rants by Gibson

The irony is that Ms Foster apparently believes that Gibson is masterful in her film, not least because he can draw on the well of his own turmoil. But on the eve of its release last Friday she suggested in an interview with National Public Radio that Gibson had more to worry about than the fate of the film.

"He will live the consequences of his behaviour, and I think he has bigger problems than whether somebody goes to see his film or not," the actress and director noted.

"He has much more pressing problems and much more pressing issues in his life." And flop or not, she would remain at his side.

"As far as walking away from someone who's struggling, I mean, if you love somebody, and you know them, and they have proven themselves as a friend over and over again in your life, and they're somebody who's really a member of your family, when someone's struggling, you don't walk away from them," she said.

Still, the frustration of low ticket sales as set against the more than decent reviews is surely intense.

"A curiously absorbing drama," said a critic for CBS News. "The reason for this lies in the incomparable acting skills of its star, Mel Gibson and, frankly, the fact that he lets a hand puppet do most of the talking."

It seems, however, that the talking that Gibson has done in real life in the last year or so has done him more damage than even a decent film can overcome.