Oren Moverman’s career so far has been about presenting layered characters and showing how each individual layer makes these characters who they are. His screenplay for I’m Not There broke down the persona of Bob Dylan, personifying different aspects of who he is and making each one into an individual character. With his first two directorial efforts, The Messenger and Rampart, he created characters with impossibly difficult jobs – who often weren’t good at them in the first place – and pulled back to explain how these characters got this position.
With Time Out of Mind, his third film as director, Moverman takes a different approach, holding back almost all information about Richard Gere’s George, to the point that we don’t even know this homeless man’s name until over a half-hour into the film. By giving only the smallest amounts of information about its main character and especially through his direction, Moverman creates an often compelling, often monotonous look at indifference towards the homeless community.
Time Out of Mind begins with George being kicked out of the New York City apartment he’s been squatting in, forcing him to live in the streets. To distance ourselves from George and see him the way the world often sees the homeless, George is in nearly every frame, however he’s rarely the focal point of any shot. Overman often shoots George from far away, through windows or in reflections and makes him seem like a tiny part of the bustling city and flurry of sounds that consume him.
George’s days are full of meandering through the city, selling his clothes for alcohol, looking for somewhere to sleep or following his bartender daughter Maggie, played by Jena Malone. After a while, George’s life becomes understandably boring, but it’s through those aforementioned camera techniques that breathe life into the repetition.
It’s when Moverman relies on his usual bag of tricks however that Time Out of Mind is at its most intriguing. The Messenger was at its best when it involved its two main characters interacting with new people and seeing the dynamic between them. Similarly, Time Out of Mind’s strength comes from George’s rare conversations with the strangers he meets. For example, we get one of the few looks at where George came from as he receives an act of kindness from a Irish nurse or especially after he gets a bed at a shelter and unintentionally makes friends with the obnoxious and outgoing Dixon, played by a fantastic Ben Vereen. These occasional looks at friendship and care towards George not only open up who George is, but also give him glimmers of hope for a better future for him.
Time Out of Mind could’ve been a film reminiscent of early Ramin Bahrani films like Man Push Cart, but by casting Gere as George, it’s hard to not see him as “Gere the hobo.” Gere does an admirable job, but the use of a known actor – especially one as well known and handsome as Gere – does create a disconnect between plot and character. There are moments when Gere is clearly begging for money in busy NYC streets without anyone knowing who he is, but the viewer never is able to feel that same lack of knowledge. Gere gives one of his best performances, but its in a film that he almost certainly shouldn’t be starring in.
While Time Out of Mind does take the time to show how difficult it is for the homeless population, in terms of filthy shelters and in the attempts to get out of this situation, the shards of hope thrown in also feel the most false. The final act gives George almost nothing but positive strides in the right direction to avoid his plight, which also is where Time Out of Mind becomes the closest to a typical Hollywood ending despite the prior hour and a half of depression, drinking, and longing for the years lost to life’s various cruelties.
On paper, Time Out of Mind sounds like a modern neorealist take on homelessness, as if Umberto D. had occurred in current New York City. While stylistically and thematically, Moverman is doing some interesting things, Time Out of Mind is held back by the pushes towards more mainstream ideals and casting that tarnish the great ideas the film holds within.