Time Out of Mind, the latest by writer-director Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger), is a film that sticks with the viewer long after its final shot. It can be uncomfortable to watch in the moment due to its neo-realist approach (long takes, rambling story, and documentary style realism). However, it provides a unique insight into the lives of people typically excluded from cinema, as well as marginalised by society.
The film stars Richard Gere (who has been campaigning for the film since 1988) as George, a homeless man in New York City suffering from alcoholism and lapses in memory. The film charts his experience living on the streets and in homeless shelters through a series of vignettes – his relationship with an African-American homeless man (Ben Vereen, Roots), another with a homeless woman (Kyra Sedgwick – unrecognisable), his attempts to reconnect with his daughter (Jena Malone, Donnie Darko) and his trouble to attain a birth certificate which he needs to find employment.
The film succeeds in capturing the harsh but incredibly realistic atmosphere of New York’s underbelly through Bobby Bukowski’s fly on the wall cinematography. Moverman’s stripped-back script forgoes the usual establishment of the central character’s history till very late in the film. Instead it aims to highlight the hopelessness that George and other inhabitants of the shelters face, a topic rarely explored in mainstream cinema. While some could argue that Gere is too handsome and recognisable to play a role of this sort, the actor acquits himself excellently to his, at times, stubborn character. He embodies an inner confusion, desperation and sadness, most evidently in the film’s closing scene.
The inclusion of some major actors in very minor roles (Steve Buscemi and Michael Kenneth Williams) can be distracting as they are given nothing to do and jar with the cinema-verite aesthetic. However they may have helped the film attract investors (a la Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave) and it is only a minor flaw as the film ultimately achieves its goal of portraying people affected by a polemical issue.
Tough and uncompromising viewing – by focusing on the lives of the homeless in such a neo-realist fashion, Gere and Moverman have created perhaps the best film centered round homelessness in recent memory. As Gere said himself (at the film’s ADIFF Q&A after the screening), the movie will make one think differently about the people they so often see on the street.