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The Man Without a Face
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2001
Mel Gibson's first time directing is notably successful. The Man Without A Face is warm movie with themes touching prejudice, the relationship between teacher and student, and faces of deception. Chuck Norstadt is a young boy whose mother's capricious relationships have sent her skimming through multiple marriages and developing a considerable deal of tension at home. The dysfunctional family leaves Chuck desperately looking for companionship. He finds an unlikely friend, the town's "freak," Justin McLeod (Gibson), who had half his face horribly scarred in a car accident. McLeod lives in a big house on the coast as a lonely hermit whose past is shrouded in ugly rumors and fear.
McLeod becomes Chuck's tutor and his friend, although Chuck will do some teaching of his own. They both realize they have a lot to learn about each other, and their friendship develops into something stirring and honest. Things get complicated when vile rumors and intolerance threaten to separate them, though.
The script is smart, and Gibson's direction guides this film with a discerning knack for emotional lucidity and realism. Nick Stahl (as Chuck) is one of the few young actors who can do emotional expression that doesn't seem forced and stupid. This is critical, because bad casting for Chuck would seriously have ruined this movie. Gibson, of course, is great here, but what would you expect? He's a tremendously versatile actor. I do think the movie probably should have been about 10 minutes longer to flesh out the ending a bit. That's not a huge complaint...the last scene in the movie makes up for any disappointment because it is very moving and evocative in its simplicity. Ahh...truly an excellent movie.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2002
This movie is an incredible moving expierience. Nick Stahl plays Chuck Nordstatt in this coming of age drama. The charming kid is beleved to be "too unstable and removed" to complete his dream: to be a pilot in the army. Once more, he doesn't have any recollection of his father, and his mother refuses to divulge such secrets. His older sister, and many of his friends think he is seriously disturbed. So he begins to question his self worth, and begins to think he is crazy. Then he meets with resident town freak,( Mel Gibson in his most powerful performance ever) an ex-teacher who decides to tutor him to help him acquire his dream. The movie teaches a valuable lesson, but doesn't come off as preachy(which is to it's benifit) Both charachters find what they are searching for in each other. The resoloution is visually stunning and touching. It proves that someone you've known for only a short time can impact you for the duration of your life.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 1999
I loved this movie I saw it when it when it first came out on video when I was 12. Since then I've seen it at least 30 times. I thought Mel Gibson had never been better than he was as Justin McLeod. Nick Stahl was great as Chuck. I read the book after I saw the movie and didn't not care for it that much. The movie was so much better. The ending was so sad. I just cried and cried. It was a great movie. Thumbs up to Mel on his directing debut. If you haven't seen it you should. I recommended it to so many people and once they saw it they understood why I love this movie. Good job Mel! :-)
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2001
Mel Gibson does justice to a wonderful story (based on the novel by Isabelle Holland) in "The Man Without a Face," his directorial debut. Commonly underrated as an actor because of his good looks and blockbuster action hits, Gibson is also terrific as the scarred recluse Justin McLeod, cantankerous and charismatic by turns. Like his student, Chuck (Nick Stahl), we notice the terrible burns less and less as the friendship between the boy and his tutor develops, as we penetrate the surface to the beauty beneath. (By the way, as one reviewer noted, only one half of McLeod's face has been disfigured - the title refers, not to McLeod, but to Chuck's absent father.)
I do wonder why Gibson chose to eliminate the homoerotic overtones in their relationship - in the novel, Chuck's yearning for a genuine father figure is inextricably entangled with his confusion regarding his sexual identity and attraction to his tutor, and these twin needs force the dramatic climax that ends their time together. Perhaps Gibson preferred to keep the plot simpler, concentrating on the themes of prejudice, the joy of teaching, and the friendship and platonic love that his protagonists learn from each other. Or perhaps he feared that his viewing audience would not be as sympathetic towards a homosexual McLeod who killed a previous pupil in a drunk driving accident. Some reviewers appear to feel that the movie did not end as well as it began, and I think this could well be chalked up to the Hollywood sanitization of the last third of Holland's book.
Still, this is a quietly splendid first film for director Gibson - a moving tribute to the transformative power of friendship and a funny, sometimes painful coming-of-age story expertly combined.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2000
This movie is an incredible moving expierience. Nick Stahl plays Chuck Nordstatt in this coming of age drama. The charming kid is beleved to be "too unstable and removed" to complete his dream: to be a pilot in the army. Once more, he doesn't have any recollection of his father, and his mother refuses to divulge such secrets. His older sister, and many of his friends think he is seriously disturbed. So he begins to question his self worth, and begins to think he is crazy. Then he meets with resident town freak,( Mel Gibson in his most powerful performance ever) an ex-teacher who decides to tutor him to help him acquire his dream. The movie teaches a valuable lesson, but doesn't come off as preachy(which is to it's benifit) Both charachters find what they are searching for in each other. The resoloution is visually stunning and touching. It proves that someone you've known for only a short time can impact you for the duration of your life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE is a quaint little drama about the deep friendship that develops between a young teenage boy and the reclusive, disfigured man who becomes his tutor. The film stars Nick Stahl (in his feature-film acting debut) as Charles "Chuck" Norstadt. Chuck lives in a broken family. His father died when he was a boy (he doesn't remember how and no one will tell him), he has two half-sisters, and they each have different fathers because his mother has been married and divorced four times. Charles likes his younger half-sister, but his older half-sister seems to have a deep hatred for him that at times he finds mutual. Living in a house full of women with no male role model is tough for a boy growing into manhood. Charles wants out and he is convinced that if he can get into the tough military academy his father went to, it will be his ticket to a better life. The only problem is that Charles isn't the brightest kid and he's already failed the test once. His mother gives him one last opportunity to take the test again at the end of summer. Charles is determined to past the test, but he knows he's going to need help.

Charles eventually makes the acquaintance of a disfigured man, Justin McLeod (Mel Gibson) who lives alone at the edge of town. Rumors abound about the man and Charles has often contributing to the mockery himself. However, upon learning that McLeod was once a teacher at a prestigious prep school, Charles convinces him to tutor him through the summer so that he can pass his entrance exam. McLeod begins the tutoring rather reluctantly, but he sees the potential in Chuck and gives him his all.

THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE was Mel Gibson's directorial debut. Gibson did a good job and the experience in the film seems to have been a turning point in Gibson's career. THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE is a smaller movie, yet it shares many of the same universal themes that Gibson explores in all of his directed feature films (so far) and many of his starring roles since 1993. The theme that stands out most in the movie is grace. Towards the end of the movie McLeod tells Charles how he taught him and showed him grace. Charles' life oozes grace and he doesn't even realize it. By the same token, McLeod displays grace towards Charles, too.

I enjoyed THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE the first time I saw it several years ago. However, now I enjoy it even more. When I first saw the film, I identified with Charles, but having returned to school and become a teacher myself, I now relate more to McLeod. In the movie, their relationship illustrates the type of relationship that should exist between every instructor and pupil, something that happens infrequently in American society.

As a side note, I have not read the book that THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE is based upon. I've been told that the book dabbles with and suggests that the relationship between the two main characters was based on sexuality. The film does not suggest that at all (though accusations of that sort are key points in the movie) and instead illustrates how a healthy friendship between adults and older children can be.

The DVD includes a trailer for the movie as well as a short featurette about the making of the film entitled REMEMBERING THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE. The featurette is brief, but it includes comments from both Mel Gibson and Nick Stahl discussing how the movie changed their lives. For a short featurette, it's actually very informative.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A surprisingly good movie considering it was Mel Gibson's first directorial effort, and also considering the role required Gibson to obscure his matinee-idol looks and assume the role of a horribly scarred, possibly disreputable outcast in a cliquey, suspicious little Maine coastal town.

Nick Stahl as the young boy who befriends Gibson is also terrific in the role. No doubt the kid has a bright future in acting. He is absolutely convincing as the young hopeful pursuing his dream of getting into an exclusive boarding school. His dysfunctional family can only pour cold water on the boy's dreams, and in that sense the two are made for each other--Stahl is an outcast even though surrounded by his own family--and Gibson is already a social outcast who has completely withdrawn from society and is living in mysterious solitude--a solitude no-one has dared intrude upon until Stahl stubbornly refuses to be turned away by Gibson's outwardly gruff exterior.
But the two come together when Stahl learns Gibson was a talented teacher once and can tutor him in the subjects he desperately needs to ace the exam into the exclusive boarding school. They overcome their own emotional baggage to forge a working friendship despite their difficulties.

Unfortunately, the movie strays off-base for a while with the kangaroo-court scene with the suspicious townies, who still have it in for Gibson, and the final ending is a little too short, but those are my only real criticisms.
All in all a very well cast, acted, and scripted film. Big Steve says go see it (or in this case, rent it) and don't Bogart the popcorn.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that I wonder if anybody else has noticed the similarity between this film and Stephen Crane's story, "The Monster?" Crane is of course known most for his Civil War novel, "The Red Badge of Courage."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 1998
Although I loved the movie and the book for their powerful messages of inner beauty, I disagree with the view that this is a pro-gay movie. It was a FRIENDSHIP, more like a father-son relationship for Charles who needed a father figure. Why is every same sex relationship automatically presumed to be gay/lesbian? Ridiculus.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2007
The Man Without a Face I think Mel Gibson's most under-rated work as both an actor and a director. His films that he directs now are always knocked about being overly violent. I think Mel should make more films like this these days "and maybe switch to decaf and also take anger management classes with Tom Cruise". Nick Stahl (In The Bedroom, Terminator 3) gives one of his better performances here as a kid than he has now when he's older. He has no father and his mom always has a different b/f, as does his sister.

He still has no father figure though until he meets a scarred man played by Mel Gibson. They meet when Stahl is dared to go to his house. They strike up an unlikely friendship though with Mel eventually becoming his tutor. He also gives him the courage to follow his dreams. No one else sees Mel as a good influence though and even accuse him of malesting Stahl. Since Mel was accused of that in past with another kid he mentored. Despite feeling bad for Gibson's character and him being treated unfair, this is still a very moving and well made film. Plus the end is bound to make you cry but in a good way, not a bad way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2000
This movie was set in New England in the late sixties, but it could have been set at anywhere and any time with equal effect. What i took from this movie was an appreciation for education, friendship and loyalty. I think that we all have had a favorite teacher that inspired us and we could relate to. This movie is about a man that lived alone and struggled with a lot of guilt, with physical and emotional scars but had a rare chance to redeem himself as an educator, and a man, in a conformist affluent town that mocks and ridicules him because he has aweful scars on his face. MR McCloud (Mel Gibson) happened across a boy who needed help, both academically and otherwise, and made a man out of a boy, while helping to make the troubled boy's dreams all come true. The acting was impeccable, and the story was very touching. I love this movie and recommend it to anyone, if you are willing to risk a tear. Great job to Mel Gibson and thanks for a touching movie.
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