George (Richard Gere) is an aging homeless man eking an existence in Manhattan. He goes to the men’s shelter at Bellevue hospital to find a place to sleep for the night where he meets a fellow client, Dixon (Ben Vereen). Dix mentors the lonely and confused man in the ways of homeless shelters. Dixon also encourages George to get in touch with his long estranged daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), in “Time Out of Mind”
Writer-director Owen Moverman adapts the story by Jeffrey Caine that focuses on one homeless man, George, as he wanders the mean streets of Manhattan looking for a place to spend the night – and he is not fussy about where he sleeps. His is a desperate existence, living day to day and hand to mouth. But, what the filmmakers are really doing is tearing the cover off a real social problem. The homeless in America are an unseen, therefore not important enough an issue to garner attention.
Gere, in a fearless performance, embodies George, slowly letting us learn about the man and why he is in such dire straights of life. Gere gives life to his character and you feel sympathy as he wanders the streets of the city, begging for money for beer and searching trash bins for food. “There, for the grace of God, go I,” came to mind more than once as I watched “Time Out of Mind,” making Gere’s performance a quite moving one for me.
While the story centers on George, the filmmakers also cast a number of name actors – Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick, Jena Malone, and Jeremy Strong – and others in small but roles important to the fabric of the film. As George tries to subsist, not really existing, his encounters with other homeless people brings to cinematic head the problem of these unseen, unnoticed persons.
Moverman and company use very stylized camera and sound design in showing the plight of the homeless, personified by George. Often times, George is seen through various panes of glass with the ambient sound of the streets used in lieu of dialog. It can be a bit disconcerting because you only have his image, not his words, as he frantically tries to get his identity back – his battle with the bureaucracy is intensified by his lack of a Social Security Number and birth certificate. To get his identity, he needs to prove his identity putting the man in a Catch-22 world.
Richard Gere will be the draw to “Time Out of Mind,” hopefully opening our eyes to the plight of part of society that is hereto not explored in any depth. I give it a B.
Richard Gere is far from the first actor one might imagine being cast as a homeless man, but the counter casting works and his interior, physical performance is compelling and sympathetic.
Writer-director Oren Moverman's ("The Messenger") plan was to make his audience concentrate on this one, lone, unnoticed figure amidst the cacophony of New York City by using extreme long shots and a layered soundtrack. Your mileage may vary, but the soundtrack, which includes off screen Strangers' conversations and noises audible to the camera placement but not Gere's George, can be headache-inducing and the long shots seen through windows often seem an attempt to hide limited sets rather than increase our scope of the city.
Moverman reworked the screenplay presented to him by his star. We follow George as he looks for Sheila, a woman who may only exist in his mind, first thrown out of an abandoned apartment by a contractor (Steve Buscemi), then bouncing through various shelters. A woman he addresses as Sheila (an almost unrecognizable Kyra Sedgewick) is on the streets too, getting by on bottle deposits. He observes his daughter (Jena Malone) working at a local bar and approaches her after being encouraged to reconnect, but she's bitter, wanting no part of him. There is little understanding of her character, making the film's hopeful yet ambiguous ending far from satisfactory.
"Time Out of Mind" is worth seeing for Gere's performance, but the film itself is a meandering tone poem.
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