If there’s one thing that Oren Moverman’s films can be called up to this point, it’s haunting. On the heels of The Messenger and Rampart comes Time Out of Mind (opening today), a mesmerizing and brutally realistic examination of another lost soul.
Richard Gere gives an Oscar-worthy performance as George, a homeless man living on the streets of New York. The movie has less of a plot and feels more like a National Geographic film, like a camera crew has snuck up on a rare exotic animal in the wild. The camera often seems hidden out of sight, aimed around corners and through windows, and follows our subjects every move with great interest. The camera though, is the only one interested in George. How many times have you walked past a homeless man or woman with their hands out, begging for change or often times huddled up, asleep or seemingly numb to the world around them? And how many times have you stopped to consider the life that these unfortunate souls lead?
When we first meet George, he is discovered in a vacant apartment building, sleeping in a bathtub. His interactions with other humans often consist of pre-programmed dialogue, like when he tells most everybody he meets that he is just waiting for “Sheila,” whomever that is. The dimes that he is able to scrape together, he spends on booze, more out of habit than necessity, because he is already detached from the world around him without the stimulus. It’s the most inside, sympathetic look at poverty that maybe has ever graced the screen, shot beautifully and given to us without a sugar-coat.
The film meanders around New York City, much like its subject. We slowly learn tidbits about George’s life, and we learn he has a daughter that still lives in the city. He follows her around once in a while when he builds the nerve to do so, like a ghost checking in on a mortal companion. As conditions worsen, he checks into a homeless shelter, befriending another vagabond, Dixon (Ben Vereen), who is in a similar situation but in a dissimilar state of mind. George barely pays attention to his new “friend,” almost to the point where you are left wondering if this guy Dixon is a figment of George’s imagination. Some big name actors like Steve Buscemi and Kyra Sedgwick float into the movie only for a scene and then are gone. It’s somewhat distracting, but not enough to take us out of what’s happening.
Time Out of Mind is a slow-build of a film that doesn’t quite lead to a worthwhile payoff, but the time spent with George is remarkable and quite powerful. The charismatic Richard Gere gives one of the best performances of his career, as this wandering drifter who is long past redemption. He is a man that the world has left behind, yet he still exists. The emotion that Gere carries with him in his face and his demeanor sticks with you well afterwards, and builds in complexity as the movie moves along. The filmmaker is simply observing this torpid man and passes no judgment on him, and the film itself does not travel on familiar paths. Sadly, you will spend more time with a homeless man while watching this film that most of us ever will in our real lives. But despite the destitution, there is an underlying sense of hope and humanity that permeates.
All in all, this is a very impressive movie, the kind of film that feels like a real slice of life. Time Out of Mind , a film that asks us to focus on the forgotten, will be a hard one to forget.
Run Time: 2 hours, Not Rated
Starring: Richard Gere, Jena Malone, Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick, Steve Buscemi
Written and directed by Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 23, 2015 (check for show times).