Watching Richard Gere waddle and “daydream” his way through New York City as a homeless man in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, I kept wondering if anyone noticed that the scraggly-dressed change solicitor in front of them was indeed a world class actor. But, no one seems to, which is exactly the point in Moverman’s patient, observational examination of a man on the bottom rung of society quietly trying to re-gain a small semblance of his old self.
Even though there’s an eventual back story to George (Gere) and his fall from societal grace, we’re given very little to discern right at the opening as a building inspector (a cameo role for Steve Buscemi) discovers the vagrant George sleeping in a bathtub of the house he’s supposed to be surveying for its eviction.
Now back on the street, the film follows George down several tangents, first and foremost being his nightly struggle for shelter, first trying to blend in as a waiting patient at a hospital and eventually allowing his pride to waver when he seeks comfort in one of the city’s homeless shelters.
Amidst that very real fight for survival, George also begins to spy on a young attractive girl (Jena Malone) leaving her apartment and then going to work in a bar. Gere’s eyes and body language express all we need to know as his unspoken bond with the girl becomes a subtle undertone throughout the remainder of the film.
There’s also the aggressive relationship he forms with another man at the shelter named Dixon (Ben Vereen). Yet, just when we expect the film to diverge into their volatile but honest friendship, Time Out of Mind goes in another direction, held together by Gere’s excellent performance. Unshaven, weary-eyed and holding posture that reveals a man beaten by the harsh world, Gere does something refreshing with his character.
Too often in films about the scattershot lives of vagrant men and women, we’re exposed to the salacious, crude and addictive side to their personality. Though there are a few scenes of drunkenness and Gere exposing himself on the sidewalk after tying one on, Moverman’s script and Gere’s method accentuate the kindness in this man. As George, Gere rarely raises his voice when asking for help from others- or in the case of Buscemi’s building manager- pleading for a veritable stay of execution from the exterior cold weather. In another scene, while asking for help in tracking down his birth certificate, he does something even grander, which is pivot his emotions from desperate to frightened to relieved all in a matter of seconds. Not only does this scene endear us to George’s plight, but it shows that any kind of person, decent or not, can find themselves scrapping for something so simple as a piece of paper that proves we exist.
Also written by Moverman (with a story by Jeffrey Cain), Time Out of Mind is an immersive experience. Filmed in static long takes, often obscured or framed by windows and doors and utilizing a cacophony of urban sounds that must swell endlessly inside the head of a person who spends all his time wandering through such an aural universe, the overall effect could have been a disassociative one. Too arty for its narrative. Too self conscious in its schematic mise-en-scene. But it works beautifully. And, as the final scene proves, maybe there is hope for someone down and out to reconnect with the strands of life he once had before.
Time Out of Mind opens in limited release on Friday October 16th at Premier Cinemas 14 in Burleson.