Mel Gibson made his feature film directing debut with this drama, loosely based on the book by Isabel Holland, which combines elements from The Elephant Man, Mask, Scent of a Woman, and The Karate Kid in a study of the capacity for human trust and compassion. Gibson plays Justin McLeod, a former teacher who, after having his face and his body terribly disfigured in an automobile accident, has taken to living alone in a big house in an island off the coast of Maine. McLeod works as a free-lance artist who undergoes the humiliation of being shunned by his neighbors and called "hamburger head" behind his back. McLeod keeps to himself and wants nothing to do with his neighbors. But one day an adolescent boy, Chuck Norstadt (Nick Stahl), comes knocking at his door desperate for a tutor. At first suspicious, McLeod gradually warms up to Chuck and they become pals. But their burgeoning friendship is frowned upon by Chuck's family and the local police chief, Stark (Geoffrey Lewis), apparently because of rumors circulating that McLeod had a record concerning child molestation. This piece of gossip threatens Chuck with the loss of his teacher and a new-found friend.