Given what it attempts, Time Out of Mind should be considered a success. An attempt to use a movie star to shine a dramatic light on the intractable problem of urban homelessness, the film’s tone of austerity helps it to avoid sentimentality and simplistic answers. But is it successful enough? That’s a different question.
Starring Richard Gere and written and directed by Oren Moverman, Time Out of Mind is not an easy film to warm to.
Convincing but not moving, more admirable than satisfying, albeit made with enough integrity and skill to hold an audience’s interest, it has unavoidable difficulty creating emotional connection.
Filmmaker Moverman, whose directorial debut was The Messenger, takes an observational, neo-art house approach here. A film this rigorous would likely never have gotten made without the passion of Gere, who pushed for the project for years and is clearly concerned about the lack of attention society pays to those who have the least.
Gere plays one such person, George, discovered sleeping in the bathtub of an abandoned New York apartment. Disoriented and disconnected, he needs a shave, a haircut and, most likely, medical attention for the cuts and bruises on his face. If this man hasn’t hit bottom, he is only an inch away.
George is forced back on the streets by the individual (played by Steve Buscemi) who finds him in the tub. Because George lives an aimless life, Time Out of Mind by definition has an episodic nature as he wanders around the city, panhandling and even selling some of his clothes, all in a ceaseless quest for money to get his next drink.
When he’s not drinking or looking for money to buy a drink, George is searching for a place to sleep, which puts him into contact with the city’s shelter system and the bureaucracy that runs it. Though these people are depicted as caring, despite everyone’s best efforts the system is inevitably a dehumanizing one.
Though Gere in the starring role is the key selling point, Time Out of Mind goes to great lengths to deglamorize him, so much so that the New York Post reported during filming that no one recognized him during shooting on the city’s streets.
Despite his good intentions and his convincing work, Gere playing George turns out to be something of a double-edged sword for Time Out of Mind. The actor has rarely been someone we easily warm to, and his cool presence is one more thing to overcome for an already overburdened film.
Cast: Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeremy Strong, Yul Vazquez, Michael K. Williams, Steve Buscemi.
Writer-director: Oren Moverman.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 121 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Cosford, Tower; in Palm Beach: Living