TIME OUT OF MIND – The Review
By Cate Marquis
When you imagine Richard Gere playing a homeless man, you may scoff. Yet director Oren Moverman, who also directed THE MESSENGER, put the movie star on the streets of Manhattan dressed as a homeless man and sent him out in the crowds. No one recognized him, which says a lot about how invisible the homeless truly are.
Gere turns in an outstanding performance as George, a man who seems to have teetered on the edge of homelessness for sometime, in this quiet, subtle drama shot in a striking realist style. Moverman plunges right into this story, without giving us any kind of background for George – we do not even learn his name until later in the film. We first meet him as he is roused from sleep and evicted from an apartment by a building manager (Steve Buscemi), where George had been staying with a friend, although it seems neither he nor his friend were legal tenants. George’s wish to shave before he leaves, his nice clothes and suitcase, and dignified manner suggest he was once a more prosperous person. However, he seems to have difficulty grasping what he is happening to him and his general lack of mental sharpness hint he has problems. Although he does not look like our idea of a homeless person, George is now without a place to live and nowhere to go.
The film is more art house in style and may prove challenging for non-film festival audiences. We are told nothing about George at the start, and details are only gradually revealed, often indirectly, through his interactions with people, primarily his estranged daughter (Jena Malone), a garrulous fellow homeless man he meets in a shelter (Ben Vereen) and a homeless woman with a shopping cart he meets in a park (Kyra Sedgwick).
On the streets, George wanders around and quickly loses his few possessions, including his wallet with his ID. He spends the last of his money on a beer, which he downs with a kind of desperation that suggests he is an alcoholic. Some time later – we are not sure how much later – he approaches a young woman named Maggie (Jena Malone) in a laundry mat. Her wary reaction tells us both that she is his estranged daughter and there is a history between them that makes her keep her distance. After meeting a nurse in an emergency room, whom he tries to charm into taking him home, he ends up in a large homeless shelter called Bellevue, where we get a glimpse of the lives of the destitute, discouraged or disturbed homeless and the overworked people trying to help them in an overburdened system.
When Israeli-born, New York-based director Oren Moverman was approached about making a movie starring Richard Gere as a homeless man, he had the same reaction most of us would: No way. Gere is too familiar a face to play a role like this one. Yet the more he thought about it, the more intrigued he was with the challenge. He and director of photography Bobby Bukowski hit on a clever solution, which overturns expectations on how a film about the homeless would look, and even used Gere’s recognizable face to aid the film’s points about the homeless.
Moverman and his photographer approach their subject almost as if they are making a nature documentary. The camera often catches George in a crowd, where Gere’s recognizable face helps us find him, or films him through screens, windows or leafy foliage. The streets that George wanders are ordinary – busy, brightly-lit and full of people, who mostly do not seem to see George. The director accomplished this feat by setting up hidden cameras and using long lens for distant shots, then sending out the actor, made up as his homeless character, to wander among unsuspecting ordinary New Yorkers, not movie extras. Despite his famous face, no one recognized Gere, a chilling illustration of the film’s point about the invisibility of the homeless among us.
Gere delivers a striking performance, perhaps one of his best ever, and is on screen almost the whole time. Gere, who is also a producer on the film and the creative force behind getting the project made, delivers a spare, honest performance that has the feeling of truth. He accurately captures many quirks found in the homeless, such as denial and evasion, a seeming inability to comprehend some instructions or focus beyond the immediate, and repeating himself. At the same time, Gere crafts a distinctive individual, one who was once like you and me until he lost control of his own life through a combination of bad luck and bad choices. The performance is free of false, cloying sentiment, instead a direct and natural portrait of a lost person.
Moverman’s direction takes us inside George’s world, with sometimes disorienting angles and camerawork that mirror his own confusion. The realism is boosted by the soundtrack, which skips the usual music in favor of ambient street sounds – snatches of real conversations, traffic noises, music wafting from bars and restaurants. The streets are sunny and flower-filled, packed with busy New Yorkers working, enjoying the weather and going about their lives. A few people extend kindnesses, like free food, some people are cruel, like the kids who mock him, but mostly no one notices George as he moves among them.
Despite the familiar names in the cast, this will not be a film for everyone. George’s story is told in a series of vignettes that reveal information about him but more often illustrate the struggles of being homeless. The film uses a realism style that is more common in European films than here, which is one reason the film may be challenging for some audiences. There is no narration and there is a series of scenes, day or night, with little indication of how much time has passed between them – it could be an hour, a day, a week or months – or even if they are in sequence. It may sound confusing but it really is not – events in George’s life unfold just as they do in real life.
The film also uses Gere’s familiar face as a way to make the audience think about a “faceless” population. But Moverman is not a longtime campaigner for homeless, toiling in the trenches, and now making a heavy-handed advocacy film. TIME OUT OF MIND is subtle and fluid, a gentle, human way for the socially-conscious director to get his point across, about the difficulty of being homeless and their invisibility, and how a few bad breaks might bring anyone to a crisis.
TIME OUT OF MIND is a bold choice for Moverman, a step back from more commercial films to a less commercial art house one. Nonetheless, TIME OUT OF MIND is worth the effort, a visually striking film with a finely drawn central performance on a socially meaningful subject.
TIME OUT OF MIND opens in St. Louis at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema
on Friday, Oct. 9
OVERALL RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS