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Richard Gere explores mysteries of identity in ‘Time Out of Mind’

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Richard Gere, left, and Oren Moverman are the creative forces behind “Time Out of Mind.” (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

You might expect a movie about a homeless man to have a strict message, but “Time Out of Mind” is more about emotions and perceptions.

The movie, which played at the San Francisco International Film Festival and opens Friday in Bay Area theaters, follows a mysterious, homeless man named George (Richard Gere) around New York City. He wears what appears to be a nice coat, and has a weird haircut barely covering a scar.

“We don’t know if it’s a scar from a fight, or brain surgery. It could be anything,” says Gere, who visited The City with director Oren Moverman (“The Messenger,” “Rampart”) to promote the film.

“We wanted to be present in the moment. We want to give just enough information to suggest possibilities, and you as an intelligent audience member fill in the rest,” says Moverman.

Gere and Moverman agreed early that the shoot would be unconventional. The cameras and crew were hidden and kept at a distance, and sound was natural, with no musical score. Gere would be out there, alone.

“The whole footprint of moviemaking was gone,” Gere says. “I would kind of wander out and take my natural space.”

Often, the pair didn’t even know how a scene was going to go. “I would know vaguely something has to happen, and he would know it,” Gere says. “I didn’t know what, but then something would happen.”

In one small scene, George hocks his coat to buy a can of beer. He sits down, takes a sip and lets out a huge whoop and a laugh.

“There are so many things inside his head that we have no access to,” Moverman says of the reaction. “Maybe the beer is good. Maybe he thought of something funny. Maybe he saw something. And maybe it’s the absurdity of all of it.”

As a rule, Moverman would simply keep shooting until Gere gave some kind of a signal he was finished, which could be anything, including placing a pair of underwear on his head.

The most powerful scene has George panhandling in a crowd of New Yorkers. It’s hard not to think of Gere, the actor, standing on a street with real people walking by, not recognizing him. It’s a moment that reveals many layers, poses many questions.

“I’m the same guy with a tuxedo on. Where’s the reality? The reality is not in the surface,” Gere ponders. “This is a gift that we were allowed to run with.”

IF YOU GO
Time Out of Mind
Starring Richard Gere, Jena Malone, Ben Vereen, Steve Buscemi
Written by Oren Moverman, Jeffrey Caine
Directed by Oren Moverman
Not rated
Running time 2 hours

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