“What do you see? Is it this? (points to face) I assure you it is human. If that’s all you see, then you don’t see me, you can’t see me.”
This dialogue sums up the theme of Man Without a Face, Mel Gibson’s 1993 directorial debut. Gibson pulls double duty as he stars as Justin McLeod, a reclusive man with a disfigured face. Nick Stahl (Terminator 3), plays the young Charles Norstadt, a troubled boy living with his mom, Catherine, (Margaret Whitton) and two step sisters (Fay Masterson and Gaby Hoffman).
McLeod has been the victim of vicious rumors and local town folklore for years. He has grown out of touch with people, living alone in a huge house overlooking a lake. Charles has problems with passing an entrance exam for military school, living with a family exclusively made up of girls, and “blanking out” whenever he thinks about his past, especially his dad.
After discovering McLeod was a former teacher, Charles asks McLeod to tutor him so he can finally pass his entrance exam. Together they conquer their hardships and create a strong friendship that must last through constant antagonism and countless accusations.
Gibson wasn’t supposed to direct this movie, but he does an admirable job as director and star. He keeps the camera shots simple and doesn’t attempt too many technical camera tricks – a sound recommendation for first time directors.
The supporting cast does a good job conveying their actions well to the audience. Whitton performance as a protective mom, especially towards McLeod, also shows some vulnerability as she searches for a fifth husband. Hoffman (Volcano, Now and Then) has an especially appealing role as Charles’ 10 year-old step-sister, Megan that exhibits a realistic family relationship. Geoffrey Lewis (Maverick, Way of the Gun) has a small but important role as the town law officer, Chief Stark.
The bond between McLoed and Charles becomes the primary drive for the movie’s storyline and keeps the audience’s attention throughout. Several genuinely emotional scenes between the two characters, like their recital of a Shakespeare play and Charles’ surprising discovery about his dad bring the audience even closer to the two main characters.
The plot flows well (listen carefully to the opening sequence) as the rise of action directly coincides with the increasing problems McLoed and Charles encounter. This extraordinary film has deeply personal performances as Gibson expands his dramatic talents in an important role outside his typical action movie genre. Audiences have seen many man-child relationships in film, but this friendship stands out mostly due to Mel Gibson’s personal involvement in the filmmaking process. His role as director gives him more control in the film’s direction and subject matter which has a clear, admirable path. Actors can make suggestions in the filmmaking process, but directors typically have more control and responsibility.
Gibson finds a personal movie where he can communicate a powerful message to the audience. He puts great amounts of work into this film and his efforts produce great results as every element of the film has a functional and emotional purpose.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler