Richard Gere in a believable broke down performance as a homeless man that sheds all vanity, but this is a languishing film that eventually loses interest. Time Out of Mind has been called cinema verité, or an experimental indie, but to me it’s social conscious filmmaking. Except it’s all one-note. It doesn’t lean on a story trajectory, it’s all life in a void, grim reality content, observing the homeless shelter system as an endless loop that doesn’t rehab the way it intends to. It was put together with a good conscience, but I feel all the time it takes with every raw filmed in real-time scene, every long-held shot, it’s nagging you to appreciate its’ nobility. It’s tiring.
I’m a big admirer of director Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger” (2009) and “Rampart” (2011), the latter which is to me really is the most underrated film of the decade. I had great hopes that once again he would make a film that would rumble my insides.
This isn’t a rousing film, it did not rumble my insides, and only filled me with pity. It’s true, “Time Out of Mind” has already won acclaim for its unadorned filming style, caught on the streets with Moverman’s camera at a distance or with a hidden close-up camera, no hired extras, just real pedestrians walking through and avoiding eye contact with undetected Gere the subject, and all done in 21 days. Gere’s promotional interviews have been very interesting for this film. He said to USA Today, “You’re not just invisible. You’re a black hole and people are afraid to be sucked in.” I’m more intrigued by Gere talking about the film he has made than by actually watching it.
For awhile, I was riveted and empathized with Gere’s strict point of view. I wanted to find greatness in it. At the start, his character George is squatting inside an apartment building before it’s about to go through a demolition. Kicked out, he finds himself disoriented on the streets. George said he had a friend that he was staying with at that apartment building, but after lots of babbling, we can’t believe him. He is a passive homeless person for awhile, until he gets too hungry and tired. He needs to trade clothes for money until his bartering power becomes completely dried up.
Sometime after, the film becomes one-note. Sure, it is illuminating just how degraded our social rehabilitation system is. As demonstrated, it takes days off of George’s life to get settled into a shelter for permanent residence, but just when you thought he was done, there’s yet more bureaucracy for him to wade through. He speaks to a social worker and a public services clerk, one after another. But we get an awful lot of that.
There’s also only two memorable characters for Gere to interact with. One, an unceasingly chattering homeless buddy (loaded with pseudo-philosophical life pronouncements) that may sound authentic but who is exhausting and too loony for a viewer to put up with, and the other, his estranged daughter who is played by Jena Malone. In this solo story thread, Gere is asking for forgiveness for being a bad father. I just wasn’t that moved. Malone’s performance as the all for herself troubled woman is just too obviously high-strung for me, and I know that when she is finally won over by her father, it is done so arbitrarily so the film can have some kind of landing zone.
I’m aware that there are risks involved in making a film like this in the first place. I oddly admire the effort, and yet I’d be lying if I told any personal friends to see it, so why should I tell you any different? If you’re caught watching “Time Out of Mind” as a chore, you will see Gere and Moverman doing work that is of honest good heart and mind. It’s really hard to make a film about the homeless because innately they are too downbeat and yet any upbeat resolution is just phony. “Time Out of Mind” isn’t phony, I give it that. But I give you four film cousin recommendations that strived to be something more compelling than the mere malaise that is listless here.
117 Minutes. Unrated.
DRAMA / WINTER DESPAIR / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Umberto D.” (1952, Italy); “The Saint of Fort Washington” (1993); “Dark Days” (2000); “Keane” (2005, England).