Having set out to help those who are mentally and physically challenged Dr. Bob Shushan (Donald Sutherland) is dedicated to his work so much so that it has come at a cost, his relationship with his son who begrudges never seeing his father when he was growing up. But life comes to a crashing halt when Bob suffers a heart attack at the wheel of his car, foryunately saved by the quick thinking of James Jones (Matthew Fox), a patient at the centre where Bob works. With changes forced upon him Bob begins to realise that he isn't the man he set out to become having turned into a pen pusher rather than helping people and so sets about helping James but in return Bob benefits more than he can imagine by trying to help James and find his father.
Does the name Dr. Bob Shushan mean anything to you? It meant nothing to me until I sat down to watch "Behind the Mask" based on Dr. Shushan's friendship with an autistic young man named James Jones. Now in truth you don't need to know who Dr. Bob Shushan or James Jones is to watch "Behind the Mask" because this is a TV movie which employs some familiar themes, from a workaholic father who discovers that he has become so wrapped up in work he has not only ignored his family but forgotten who he is to the friendship as Dr. Shushan and James end up helping each other. It does mean that "Behind the Mask" is in some ways familiar but no less interesting or entertaining, benefiting from a surprisingly good cast for a TV movie.
So as I mentioned "Behind the Mask" uses some very common themes but it works because there is something very special in the way Bob and James bond with each gaining something from this friendship, be it Bob getting to see the mistakes he has made by being consumed up by work to James understanding that acting and looking like a caveman doesn't make him approachable. How this plays out will keep you involved depites its familiarity and so there are no great surprises come the end although the pleasant feel good ending works a treat.
But the thing about "Behind the Mask" is that it has a very good cast with supporting performances from Mary McDonnell, Bradley Whitford and Sheila Larken just as good as the central performances from Donald Sutherland and Matthew Fox. Sutherland as Shushan makes it all seem so natural especially in the patient and respectful way he deals with James's outbursts in public places, you almost get a sense that Sutherland had experienced the same situations himself and just played it out in a very natural way. But it is also the emotion which Sutherland brings to the movie and yes "Behind the Mask" certainly has a sentimental side but through that tear glistening eye you really believe that Bob is feeling remorse for having robbed his son of his attention.
Then there is Matthew Fox as James Jones and let's be honest, taking on a character with a handicap is difficult because not only can the actor over play it but a director can use it to shock. Neither happens here and Matthew Fox's interpretation of James; his shouting, his averting of his eyes and his need to be listened to is all attention grabbing for the right reasons. But there is also great chemistry between Donald Sutherland and Matthew Fox and by the time "Behind the Mask" nears its end you believe that there is a bond between these men.
What this all boils down to is that "Behind the Mask" might be based on real events but what is delivered is a familiar but no less entertaining drama about a friendship and how two people were helped by each other.