Ty Burr
February 11, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

With The Man Without a Face, Mel Gibson makes a solid meat-and-potatoes directorial debut. The plot melds Summer of ’42 with Dead Poets Society: 12-year-old Charles (Nick Stahl) is stuck on the coast of Maine with two bratty sisters and a flighty mother (Margaret Whitton), and his only chance of escape is a posh military academy which he doesn’t stand a chance of getting into. Charles befriends and studies the classics with the local freak (Gibson), a former prep school teacher whose face was disfigured in a mysterious auto accident. The two forge a lofty friendship — one that the townsfolk suspect is Platonic in more ways than one…

Masked in a penitent coat of latex, Gibson is in Hamlet mode here: He broods and plays opera and reads plummily from The Aeneid. A few quirks might have fleshed the character out; as it is, the man’s a plaster Mr. Chips. Still, Man Without a Face‘s tight focus on student and teacher reaps generous insights. And Gibson can direct. Next time, he should try cutting loose. B-

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