“Time Out of Mind” places us in the shoes of a homeless man navigating big-city streets and bureaucratic mazes, having lost both his ID cards and his sense of individual identity. Predicament outweighs personality in this observational drama. Writer-director Oren Moverman impressively depicts the indignities of poverty but his characters don’t move us deeply.
A humanist filmmaker whose credits include “The Messenger,” Moverman has made an urban survival story in a highly watchable semi-documentary style. Richard Gere plays George Hammond, an unassuming homeless man presented as both unique and symbolic.
George is a New Yorker with a beanie, a disheveled look and a foggy-headedness resulting from too much booze and interrupted sleep. Kicked out of the rundown apartment where he has been snoozing in the bathtub, George roams the streets, begs for money and eats out of trashcans. He winds up in a shelter, where he receives a bed, undergoes evaluation and applies for a new Social Security card in a bureaucratic system that baffles him.
Encouraged by his talkative friend and fellow shelter resident Dixon (Ben Vereen), George opens up about his personal misfortunes, which include the death of his wife and his abandonment of his now-grown daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone). George sometimes shows up at the bar where Maggie works, but Maggie tells him to scram.
You may never look at a person sleeping in a doorway or eating out of the garbage the same way again after watching this movie. Moverman presents a multifaceted picture of what everyday life is like for destitute people with nowhere to go.
Thuggish punks throw bottles at George when he’s sleeping outdoors. George’s harmless presence makes a woman withdrawing cash from an ATM nervous. Beggar’s cup in hand, George is treated as invisible by nearly everyone he approaches.
Moverman’s observant screenplay is free of overblown tragedies (the basic realities of plights like George’s are sad enough) and hero-villain phoniness.
Some of Moverman’s unusual artistic choices, such as filming George with a far-away camera to convey his anonymity in a crowd, prove more distracting than effective, They eclipse the story’s emotional aspects.
George, on that note, is passive. While his withdrawnness, given his circumstances, may make sense, that doesn’t translate into compelling drama, unless lots of emotion exists under the surface. That’s not the case.
Gere, instrumental in getting this admirable but unstirring movie made, is believable as a broken homeless man struggling to connect. When Moverman uses the old-fashioned technique called the close-up, Gere makes you truly care about this man. But he’s not sufficiently gripping over the movie’s two-hour running time.
The dramatic juice comes foremost from Vereen, whose Dixon is a vibrant force of unrealized dreams. And Kyra Sedgwick is colorful as a spirited homeless woman.
Time Out of Mind
Two and a half stars
Starring Richard Gere, Jena Malone, Ben Vereen, Steve Buscemi
Written by Oren Moverman, Jeffrey Caine
Directed by Oren Moverman
Running time 2 hours