Late in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, an addled Richard Gere panhandles in the middle of a busy Manhattan street, shaking a cup and asking for change, occasionally attempting to engage with passerby, and being utterly ignored in the process. Moverman and Gere filmed this scene – and others like it – guerilla style, not shutting down streets or blocking off sets, simply sending Gere into the fray in costume and character. Few people noticed that the older homeless gentleman asking them for change was actually Richard Gere, and even those that gave him money scooted by without locking eyes with the man, too embarrassed or occupied or blind to see the desperate human being standing in front of them.
That’s entirely the point of Moverman’s latest, which chronicles Gere’s George as he shambles and shuffles around New York City, scrapping by for yet another day and night. Homeless and jobless for many years, George has found a few tricks to keep himself alive and in relatively fine health, but when the film opens, his latest scam – squatting in the abandoned apartment of a woman he may or may not know – has come to an end. Narratively loose, the film follows George through an indeterminate number of days (or weeks, or months, it’s kept purposely vague) as he attempts to carve out even the most basic existence.
Long resistant to the shelter system, George eventually gives in to the appeal of a warm bed and steady meals, but the film balks at delivering the kind of traditional narrative that would mark such a decision of being indicative of upward mobility. George is not rising, and Time Out of Mind is mostly concerned with observing George’s life as it is, not as it could be. This is not a story about salvation, and Moverman’s resistance to making such a feature, instead going for something far more raw and rewarding, is awe-inspiring.
Gere’s performance is always captivating, and while his physical appearance in the film’s early sections can’t match the work he’s putting out – in short, he just doesn’t look like someone who has lived on the streets for years and years with little care for personal hygiene and a hefty interest in drinking himself to death – he eventually manages to marry the two by the film’s final act. It’s not a fully transformative performance, and there are still moments when the near-gimmick of “hey, it’s Richard Gere” floats to the surface, but Gere turns in solid, brave work. His supporting cast helps immeasurably, and Jena Malone’s turn as his beleaguered daughter and Ben Vereen as a friend he makes in the shelter system are excellent additions. It’s a shame so much of the film features Gere alone, because he sparks when he’s matched with equally game talent.
The majority of the film was shot on long lenses, allowing Gere to move through the city relatively undetected. Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski also routinely filmed through things, from windows to doors to wavy reflections, and the effect is both distancing and claustrophobic. While it plays up the more voyeuristic elements of the film, it is also wearing, and despite its clever conceit, it soon feels utterly exhausting. Similarly tiring is Moverman’s insistence on including almost overwhelming background noise, dropping in on conversations and occurrences that have little to do with what’s happening on the screen (and, more specifically, to George).
Moverman’s aims are admirable, and he seems intent on driving home the point that homeless people move through the world relatively unobserved, a background buzz that rarely moves to the forefront of most people’s “regular life,” but the overall execution is so distancing as to alienate his audience. Homeless people are ignored, and although Moverman’s film wants to illuminate that, it’s so frequently ham-fisted and over-the-top that it will likely turn off as many audience members as it enthralls.
The Upside: Gere’s performance ultimately ends on a very high note, strong supporting turns from Malone and Vereen, emotional without being sentimental or simplistic.
The Downside: The film’s ideas are not always executed crisply, its concepts are often delivered quite obviously, the natural style is initially wearing, Gere’s performance starts off in an unfocused manner.
On the Side: In a post-screening press conference at NYFF, Moverman shared that Vereen was so desperate to land the part of Dixon that he flew from Los Angeles to New York City specifically to meet with the director and plead his case. Moverman also shared that Vereen had a number of reasons why the role was so important to him – reasons so personal that Moverman declined to share them.
Related Topics: NYFF