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Man Without A Face

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Man Without A Face

Starring: Mel Gibson, Nick Stahl
Director: Mel Gibson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: August 1993
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Margaret Whitton, Fay Masterson, Gaby Hoffman, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Michael DeLuise, Ethan Phillips, Jean De Baer

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

One of the riskiest and hardest moves in any actor's career is transition from the image of popular entertainer to the image of true artist. Mel Gibson saw that in early 1990s, when he tried to reach beyond his status of action superstar, shown in MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON movies. His first attempt, role in Zeffirelli's HAMLET, ended disastrously. Luckily, there was a second chance for him, and in 1993 he took that chance with THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, coming-of-age drama based on the novel by Isabelle Holland. That film was also his directorial debut that laid the path that would lead to his BRAVEHEART triumph two years later.

Like his colleague Jodie Foster in LITTLE MAN TATE, Gibson decided to direct a movie with a young boy as protagonist. The plot takes place in small town in Maine 1968. Chuck Norstadt (played by Nick Stahl) is a 12-year old boy who lives together with his mother (played by Margaret Whitton) and two half-sisters. Being misunderstood and ignored by his family, he seeks rebellion in the idolatry of his late father, military pilot. His great ambition in life is to go to the military boarding school. That move, at the peak of anti-war movement, isn't just unpopular - it is very unlikely, because Chuck needs tutoring. Help comes in a form of Justin McLeod (played by Mel Gibson), former teacher with a terribly scarred face, who lives a hermit. McLeod begins teaching Norstadt and two of them become friends. Unfortunately, that only enflames the hostility of the town, and vicious rumours about teacher's dark past emerge, threatening the relationship between Chuck and McLeod.

At first glance, THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE looks surprisingly good for someone's directorial debut. But, those who are likely to nitpick Gibson's work would find that the directing seems somewhat too baroque for a simple drama that would be most suitable for TV films. The most attractive element in this film is acting. Gibson plays very good and thankful role of a misanthropic hermit who gradually regains love for humanity. That role was very carefully played, in order not to overshadow anyone else, including Nick Stahl, who was good in his part. The result is a well-acted, competently directed coming-of-age drama that doesn't drowns itself in cliches and cheap sentimentality.

Unfortunately, the screenplay by Malcolm McRury had touched the issues of homosexuality and paedophilia, and that was enough for this film to be criticised not for its own flaws, but for the shortcomings of its director. Before making this film, Gibson was branded as homophobic, because of an interview he had given. In the peak of Political Correctness, it was simply inconceivable arrogance for a notorious homophobe to direct a movie dealing with such issues. But the real reason why some left-leaning critics attacked the film wasn't in Gibson's treatment of homosexuality (which wasn't mentioned or implied on until the very last scenes in the film). It was the fact that Gibson gave a story about anti-establishment rebellion from a rather conservative point of view. The film is set in 1968, but the thing that bothers Chuck is not the old establishment; Chuck is disgusted with the new social freedoms that are enjoyed at the expense of newer generations (with Chuck's own family being the victim of endless divorces), and the character of Carl (played by Richard Masur), Chuck's potential stepfather, could be seen as the caricature of Baby Boomers and all their ideals. The subtlety with which the conservative ideas were introduced in this Hollywood film didn't hurt the film, but the very fact such ideas found their place on screen in that ultra-liberal era was enough to make this film better than its reputation.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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