Review: ‘The Man Without a Face’
Starring: Mel Gibson, Nick Stahl, Margaret Whitton, Richard Masur and Geoffrey Lewis
Rated: PG-13 for language and mature subject matter
Running time: 116 minutes
Mel Gibson has created two distinct lives for himself in Hollywood.
No, I’m not talking about things he says when he gets pulled over by the cops.
Gibson has cultivated winning box-office careers both in front of and behind the camera.
When you think of Mel Gibson, actor, a laundry list of movies comes to mind. Movies like “Lethal Weapon,” “Mad Max,” “Ransom.”
When you think of Mel Gibson, director, you have a much shorter list, but powerful nonetheless. Movies like “Braveheart,” “The Passion of the Christ” (for better or for worse) and “Apocalypto.”
But there’s one movie that falls under both categories and unfortunately gets overlooked.
Two years before Gibson became a two-time Academy Award winner for directing “Braveheart,” he directed and starred in a dramatic little movie called “The Man Without a Face.”
Gibson plays Justin McLeod, a former teacher and present recluse in the 1960s. He’s become such due to injuries he received resulting in half of his face being horribly scarred.
In his own words he’s become the town “fairy tale.” He has a checkered past to begin with, which only adds to his air of mystery. But people don’t see him, they only see his scars.
More importantly, because of the scars, no one wants to even bother getting to know him.
Based on those circumstances, everyone has their own story of how he became that way and none of them are polite or endearing.
However, they don’t stop young teenager Charles Norstadt (Nick Stahl, in his first role) from prying his way into McLeod’s life when he’s in desperate need of a tutor.
He needs to pass an entrance exam to get into a boarding school and there’s no way he can do it alone.
Aware of all the rumors about McLeod, yet also knowing he was a teacher, Charles decides to the bite the bullet and ask him for help.
McLeod is harshly hesitant at first, wanting only to be left alone, but Charles wears him down. Eventually McLeod agrees to tutor him and the two begin developing a mutual respect for each other.
Charles has a bit of a checkered past himself. His father died when he was four and he lives with his sisters and mother, who finds herself in relationship after relationship.
He’s also had some behavioral problems that stem from him simply wanting to be understood.
That’s probably why McLeod and Charles bond with one another so quickly. As such, they both serve a great purpose in the other’s life.
In McLeod, Charles finds the father he never had. And in Charles, McLeod finds what he thought he’d never find again — acceptance.
Still, the town doesn’t see or know McLeod the way Charles does.
As Charles puts it, “People are afraid of what they don’t know,” and he decides to keep his tutoring sessions a secret.
Eventually, however, cats like that always find their way out of the bag and the consequences are never pleasant.
“The Man Without a Face” is a touching story about how things are on the inside and how they can be so badly misconstrued from the outside looking in.
Gibson and Stahl have some wonderful scenes together and newbie-at-the-time Stahl definitely holds his own with the seasoned Gibson.
I’ve seen this movie easily a dozen times and I can honestly say that every time it’s just as compelling as the first time I watched it.
Those are signs of a great story and great acting and this film certainly has both.
It’ll definitely get your emotions running, so do yourself a favor and run out and get a copy.
The Movie Dude, Joe Altomere of Fort Myers, grew up in his parents’ video store in Plantersville, Texas. He owns close to 2,000 DVDs and Blu-ray discs and considers that only the start of his collection. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.