Gibson Shows Face
I've heard "The Man Without a Face" described as a coming of age movie as it focuses on a young boy called Chuck who over a few summer weeks grows up. But it's not really about Chuck growing up, but the bond which forms between two people who to the masses appear abnormal. They see the real person be it Chuck seeing that Justin isn't a freak and Justin seeing the potential in Chuck when not stamped down by his mother and sisters. And as such they grow in each others company becoming the people they really are yet despite the innocence of their friendship the masses can't handle what to them isn't normal, making something out of nothing. It is both a sweet and powerful story which in fairness does go a touch too melodramatic towards the end but for the first 90 minutes doesn't set a foot wrong. And considering "The Man Without a Face" was Mel Gibson's directional debut it is impressive.
Former teacher Justin McLeod (Mel Gibson - Forever Young) lives alone on the edge of town where he hides from the masses having been horribly disfigured in a car accident 10 years earlier, an accident which he ended up in jail for after the student who was in the passenger seat died. Everyone in town thinks of him as the freak, speculating about his past as no one knows the truth about him. But when Chuck Norstadt (Nick Stahl - Terminator 3), a withdrawn young boy, discovers he was a teacher he persuades him to tutor him as Chuck wants to get away from his mother and sisters to join a military academy. But whilst Chuck and Justin bond, treating each other as equals with no prejudices the rest of the town are less than happy, uncomfortable when it becomes known that the freak has a young boy as a friend.
One of the best things which Gibson does with "The Man Without a Face" is that he doesn't overly create a set up, in a few quick scenes we quickly learn all about Chuck Norstadt who as the only male in an all female house is marginalised. He feels trodden down, hated by his old sister and mocked for not being bright which makes him both angry and desperate to get away and join a military academy but being slightly slow when it comes to learning has already failed the admissions test once and is unlikely to past the resit. By the time the main part of the storyline comes we have a very clear picture of who Chuck is, a lone child in need of friendship and a father figure.
That father figure arrives in the unlikely shape of the disfigured Justin McLeod who has been left scarred following a car crash where a young boy he was travelling with died. And we quickly establish a few things about Justin; he has shut himself off from the world, going out at night and adverse to visitors which has caused rumours to spread about him and for him to be known as the local freak who should be feared.
But Chuck and Justin becomes friends, Chuck wants Justin to help him study for the entrance exam having discovered he was a teacher and Justin sees this as an opportunity to do what he loved before he became a recluse. We watch as they bond, Justin not only helping Chuck study but also becoming a friend, a father figure who helps advises him in other ways. And Chuck does not see the scars he sees the person Justin really is, a man who loves to teach who is misunderstood because no one knows him for being anything other than the freak or as he puts it the local troll.
Of course this is not all there is to this story as Chuck discovers the truth about his father and this leads to him becoming upset and spending the night at Justin's. I won't spell out what exactly happens but the basis of the rest of the movie really boils down to the masses fear of the not normal as they read something into this friendship which isn't true. But where as many a director would have delivered some obvious power battles as Justin is accused of something he isn't, Gibson almost plays it low key with short scenes rather than ones full of powerful speeches. That doesn't mean it isn't melodramatic because the ending most certainly is but not the over the top melodrama which some directors would have opted for.
As such it has to be said that for a directional debut Mel Gibson has done a fantastic job, delivering the charm of this friendship whilst also delivering the explosiveness of the situation. He also paces it perfectly so that at just short of 2 hours it never becomes dull or stilted although in some ways you do feel that at times he has just skimmed the surface of the story not exploring the full depth and emotion in order not to drag it out.
But on top of doing a wonderful job of directing Gibson also delivers a first rate performance full of different layers from Justin's fear of the public to the lease of life he feels when Chuck treats him as just a man. It is not just Gibson who gives a good performance and in his movie debut Nick Stahl is impressive as Chuck because he makes this young boy real. When Chuck is angry there is no whining or moaning or face pulling but aggression as a book is thrown or something is kicked. But then you have the joy of a young innocent as he finds a friend, someone who treats him with respect and fondness. So good are Gibson and Stahl together that the rest of the cast don't really get a look in.
What this all boils down to is that "The Man Without a Face" is a very good movie especially considering the complexity of the storyline and this being Mel Gibson's directional debut. It's by no means perfect and you get a sense that to pace it just right some of the depth of the story has been left out but even so for just short of 2 hours you have a wonderful movie about friendship and how for some anything which doesn't conform to their idea of normal is just wrong.