***1/2 out of ****
Unrated, but R-level content
for strong language and brief sexuality
Released: October 1, 2015
Runtime: 120 minutes
Directed by: Oren Moverman
Starring: Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick, Steve Buscemi
Time Out Of Mind is an Honorable Mention on my Top Ten List for 2015
Unless you’ve worked or volunteered regularly at a shelter, soup kitchen, ministry, or on the streets, then Time Out Of Mind will be the longest single block of time you’ll have ever spent with a homeless person.
Granted it’s a movie – and a fictionalized one at that, starring Richard Gere no less (he’s also a producer) – but there’s an authentic power to director Oren Moverman’s candid look at life on the streets. It’s not that any one moment in particular is eye-opening or revelatory; rather, it’s the cumulative effect of spending two straight hours in the unrelenting dirge that is urban homelessness that packs a wallop, sobers our prejudices, and softens judgments.
This empathy occurs not as a result of sentimentalizing the experience; it comes from depicting it all, including a self-inflicting honesty. We follow Gere’s George through the streets, subways, lobbies, parks, and alleyways of New York City, over the course of roughly a week. It is a transitory haze. Time Out Of Mind prompts an ongoing dual reaction of sympathy (for George) and gratitude (that you’re not in his place), and yet when he makes bad decisions that leave you shaking your head, it’s depicted in a way that elicits understanding, not condemnation. George is hurting himself, but after you spend enough time in his worn shoes – and see the slow bleak hopelessness it creates – you can very easily see yourself spiraling helplessly in the same way.
Even so, another hurdle Time Out Of Mind places throughout the course of the film is the Catch-22 scenario for homeless people when they try to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Every opportunity pursued requires a form of ID – even applications for ID cards themselves! You need a driver’s license, or social security number, or government ID, or birth certificate, to get any one of the other kinds of ID. It’s an institutionalized regulatory loop that a homeless person has no on-ramp for.
While Gere (who continues to push himself in a late-career personal renassaince) and the supporting cast do a superb job of embodying this reality, both physically and psychologically (I was shocked the moment I realized that one of his skittish and ragged cohorts was dance legend Ben Vereen), it’s Moverman’s use of the camera and frame composition that uniquely creates the experience for us. Almost every shot is subtly voyeuristic. Not in a leering sort of way, but respectful, even protective.
We’re watching Gere from a distance, through doors, from across streets, on the other side of windows (a lot of windows), at just-off angles, or a wide variety of combinations thereof. Even when in close up, the shots aren’t simply shots; they’re our POV. Moverman’s use of audio is also key. There’s noise, always noise. It’s occasionally loud, sure, but even the normal ambience of the city is merciless when you begin to realize that you can never escape it (save for the occasional nighttime respite on a shelter bunk).
Even when taking cover in a lobby chair, the city sound is on the other side of the glass pane, or being funneled through a swinging or revolving door. There is virtually no respite – except for brief graces, like an hour in, when George gets the chance to take a quick shower. You can almost feel the massaging comfort of the water pressure cascading over his head.
And every time someone forces him to vacate a foyer, or abandoned apartment, or some cover of safety, you can appreciate why George’s impulse isn’t to ask for sympathy but rather to say that he’s not loitering, that he’s not homeless, that he’s just waiting for someone. It’s not that he’s a liar, a lazy vagrant, or lost his mind (although there may be a bit of that at play). It’s the reflex he instinctively has, as a shield for his shame.
The best flicker of hope that Time Out Of Mind offers is only the faintest of glimmers right before the final fade to black. But, given the blunt portrayal leading up to it, that restrained closing hint almost feels like a Hollywood ending. Suffice it to say, the George we leave isn’t likely to change much, if at all. But the point of the movie is to change us. Our perceptions. Our biases. Our actions. In fact, as you watch Time Out Of Mind, dare yourself to feel about George as you would if he were Christ himself.