Tackling a subject like homelessness in Manhattan is daunting. Not only should the attempt accurately portray the various hardships, but it should also avoid over-sentimentality. Time out of Mind does just this. Though it is only director Oren Moverman’s third film, he has proven himself to be a highly skilled filmmaker, as well as a gifted screenwriter, responsible for co-writing I’m Not There (2007), fully writing his two previous films, and most recently the Brian Wilson biopic (which Cinedelphia loved), Love and Mercy (2014). After Richard Gere (who stars as George) received the original script, written by Jeffrey Caine, he held onto it for years. The project finally came to be when Moverman got involved, and had a similar vision as Gere.
George could be anybody. He was once married with a child, but due to alcoholism and the death of his wife, he spiraled into debt. That debt turned into squatting, which then turned into actual homelessness. This is when we first meet George. What is immediately apparent from Time Out of Mind, is that it’s different than most mainstream films shot in the familiar continuity style. Here, the camera seems to wander more. It never invades, and there isn’t a single hand held shot. Rather, it slowly moves around George and those he encounters, and very often stays behind panes of glass or cloudy windows. What is so effective about this decision is that the film never pushes you in any direction. It simply lets you experience the scenes as you perceive them. In the same vein, the aural landscape is comprised greatly of conversations not at all relevant to the particular scene you are watching. Instead, it’s a smattering of different languages, tail ends of sentences, and various sounds of computers or phones. This is not to say that it is distracting. Rather, it’s a bold decision that places you in the middle of the “action.” You feel completely immersed in any given scene, which can often be uncomfortable. Especially in the infuriating scenes that showcase the utter neglect and impossibility of the bureaucracy a homeless person must navigate through.
Gere delivers a surprisingly powerful and subdued performance as George. So much in fact, that it’s almost hard to tell that it’s him at points. There is a thread of unreliability that comes through in his character, though this is never dwelled on too extensively, and avoids ever painting him into that stereotypical “crazy” homeless man. Jena Malone also shines in this film as George’s estranged daughter Maggie. In fact, the entire supporting cast, which includes Ben Veeran as Dixon, George’s unwanted buddy and bunk-neighbor, is very strong. The reality in this film is always present. This is likely due to the held back performances, fly-on-the-wall camera work, and getting to film inside the actual Bellevue Hospital (which was once the famous psychiatric ward, but is now an intake center for homeless men). The earnest sensibility that comes from both behind and in front of the camera channels the work of Robert Bresson and Frederick Wiseman, and results in making Time Out of Mind a beautiful and heartbreaking look into homelessness in New York.
Time Out of Mind opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.