Man Without a Face, The: Mel Gibson’s Directing Debut is Earnest, Sentimental Melodrama

Star Mel Gibson (“Lethal Weapon” series, “Mad Max” franchise) makes a modest directing debut with “The Man Without a Face,” an earnest, sentimental melodrama–a male weepie–about the relationships between a disfigured man and a lonely boy.

Gibson plays Justin McCloud (played by Gibson), a former professor severely burned in an accident, who now has a scar tissue covering half of his body, including his face.  Isolated and estranged from community, McCloud lives with his German shepherd (his only companion) in a secluded farmhouse by the river in Cranesport, Maine, where locals refer to him as ”hamburger head” and ”the freak.”

While physically looking like a monster, emotionally he is a sensitive man who loves art, music, literature. The center of the narrative is the bond that evolves between outcast and a lonely boy, Chuck Norstadt (Nick Stahl), who lives with his unstable mother (Margaret Whitton) and two half sisters.  Early on, the boy is fearful of the hooded stranger, but he yearns for a father figure and, surrounded by females, he craves the company of men. It should be noted that in the book upon which the movie is based, the disfigured man is gay.

Thematically, the movie, which is set in 1968, is a variation of the sensitive and tormented freak a la “Elephant Man” or “Phantom of the Opera,” who becomes a charismatic inspirational tutor, though we seldom see him functioning as a teacher and thus fail to understand what specific lessons the boy learns from his master.

The Man With a Face is a minor, disappointing film and a strange choice for an actor like Gibson who in his best screen roles boasts vibrant energy (and violence), which lack in this solemn, often dull picture.