'Time Out of Mind': Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto Film Festival
An undramatic, narrowly conceived look at the homeless life

Richard Gere plays a New York City homeless man estranged from his daughter in Oren Moverman's drama

An eavesdropping observational camera style and a generalized sense of compassion prove no substitute for what’s missing from Time Out of Mind — any sense of drama. This longtime pet project of producer-actor Richard Gere and, eventually, for writer-director Oren Moverman, displays a certain kind of dedication for evoking the life of the homeless in New York City, but with Gere’s character so lacking in memory and mental clarity, the film provides very little for an audience to latch on to. Tedium quickly sets in and is only sporadically relieved in this labor of love that simply doesn’t reward even the patient attention of sympathetic viewers. Theatrical prospects are meager.

Gere’s recent tilt toward independent rather than big studio work yielded major dividends with Arbitrage two years ago, and his performance here as a man named George who simply slipped through the cracks of society after a family tragedy is about as far from the sexy glamour boys he used to portray as could be imagined. He’s grizzled, rumpled and beat-up-looking, he moves uncertainly and seems very unlikely to ever find his footing again.

But as much as the actor has roughed himself up to look plausible as a denizen of shelters, vacated buildings and dingy streets, the range these limitations leave him to play in is extraordinarily limited and, frankly, not very interesting once you realize that no character development is possible for his character. George can react to people he meets — they invariably do most of the talking, given his extreme introversion — but given that he spends the entire movie making a futile attempt to officially establish even the basics of an identity by way of Social Security number or birth certificate, his ability to initiate anything positive seems ruled out from the start.

Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski establish a visual approach that is more than just documentary-like, as the widescreen images lean toward the bold and carefully composed. At the same time, however, they have a photojournalistic feel to them in that most of the shots use very long lenses that make the actors look spied upon from a distance, often through panes of glass or other obstructions. There are times as well, notably in telephoto lens shots of George panhandling on busy streets, when it’s clear that the disheveled-looking actor was out there on his own, begging cup in hand, with no one realizing who he was.

As moderately interesting as this is from a purely photographic perspective, however, the technique actually serves to objectify and further distance an already unknowable character from the viewer. George is a kind of everyman among the homeless — he’d be better off with a number than a name, in fact — but the specifics about him are extremely limited.

Eventually, once he pairs up for a while with an extremely talkative shelter dweller named Dixon (Ben Vereen), we learn about George’s daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), who was given up to grandparents after the long-ago tragedy and now wants nothing to do with the father who never took care of her when she needed him most. She’s an understandably damaged young lady but, again, the script can’t go very far with the conflicts because of George’s very limited memory bank and total inability to explain himself and his past actions.

So the film just plods along, at inordinate length, providing a narrow glimpse into what a homeless life is like but without depth or drama. While the sociopolitical stance of those involved in the film is easily identifiable — it would take considerable dedication to the cause to devote this much time and effort to a project that could never offer much expectation of compensation — the film nonetheless is not agitprop or a call to action. It is what it is, a very good-looking snapshot of a homeless life. And, unlikely as it may seem under the circumstances, the leading man actually gets laid once. After all, it is a Richard Gere movie.

Production companies: Gere Productions, Blackbird Productions
Cast: Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeremy Strong, Yul Vazquez, Michael K. Williams, Steve Buscemi, Colman Domingo, Geraldine Hughes
Director: Oren Moverman
Screenwriter: Oren Moverman
Producers: Richard Gere, Lawrence Inglee, Caroline Kaplan, Edward Wilson, Miranda Bailey, Bill Pohlad
Executive producers: Mohammed Al Turki, Zak Tucker, Amanda Marshall, Eva Maria Daniels
Director of photography: Bobby Bukowski
Production designer: Kelly McGehee
Costume designer: Catherine George
Editor: Alex Hall

No MPAA rating, 122 minutes