The homeless population of New York City are given the spotlight they desperately deserve in “Time Out of Mind,” a compelling drama starring Richard Gere, Jena Malone, Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick and Steve Buscemi.
Written and directed by Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”), “Time Out of Mind” is a poignant, though occasionally sluggish, portrait of life on the streets of an unforgiving city. A passion project for Gere, who developed the script with Moverman over the course of several years, the film takes an experimental approach to its narrative, abandoning a traditional plot in favor of simply observing the day-to-day struggles of a man whose luck has ran out. It’s a challenging work, and one whose ambiguities moviegoers may find off-putting, but it’s also a vital film that demands attention, shedding light on an epidemic that is too often overlooked by the general public. With a strong seasoned cast lending support to Richard Gere’s devastating lead performance, “Time Out of Mind” should score modest returns in the arthouse market.
When we first meet George (Richard Gere), it’s wintertime in Manhattan, and he’s being unceremoniously booted from the rundown apartment in which he’s been squatting. Although little information is revealed about George, based on his clean appearance and general sense of injustice over being evicted, it’s clear he isn’t conditioned to life on the streets. Over the next couple of days, the audience is invited into George’s world as he goes about his daily routine – panhandling, drinking, scavenging for food, and bouncing from park bench to subway in search of a decent night’s sleep.
One of George’s places of refuge is a hospital waiting room, and it’s there that a nurse gently informs him of the city’s homeless shelter, where, with the proper identification, he could seek admittance. Understandably defensive over his vagrant status, George initially refuses help but eventually accepts a bed at the shelter. There, George befriends a wise old-timer (Ben Vereen) who schools him to the shelter life and how to use the benefits the system offers to better his situation.
While George grapples with the indignities of destitution, he attempts to mend his broken relationship with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone).
Loosely structured and leisurely paced, writer-director Oren Moverman’s primary objective with “Time Out of Mind” is to relate to the audience what it really means to be homeless, and he accomplishes this feat a couple of interesting ways. Whereas a more traditional narrative like “The Pursuit of Happyness” would focus on the protagonist’s descent into homelessness, here Moverman throws us right into the thick of it, creating a disorienting effect that mirrors George’s mental state. Also along these lines, Moverman leaves George’s backstory intentionally ambiguous, giving viewers just enough information to “get” him but not enough to really know him, similar to our usual encounters with the homeless (we may give them money, but we don’t want to know their whole story).
Beyond the unconventional structure and unique cinematography – Bobby Bukowski (“Infinitely Polar Bear”) shot with long lenses from a distance to capture Gere’s authentic interactions with passersby – perhaps the biggest obstacle “Time Out of Mind” faces is also its main selling point: Richard Gere. Will audiences find him convincing in the role of a homeless man? There’s no denying his performance – for how little we know about him, it’s amazing how much emotion he’s able to convey. But there are moments where the audience is reacting less to his character’s struggles and more to the fact that an A-lister is panhandling. On the supporting side, Ben Vereen brings both compassion and comic relief to the role of George’s bickering shelter buddy, and Jena Malone is spot-on as Gere’s conflicted daughter both resentful of her father’s abandonment and yet unwilling to turn her back on him entirely.
A film more concerned with empathizing with the plight of the homeless than satisfying viewer expectations, “Time Out of Mind” is eye-opening filmmaking that gives voice to an underrepresented population who deserves to be heard.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 121 minutes
This Film is Not Rated
Opening in Los Angeles September 11th and available On Demand September 18th.