The urban poor are so often exoticized or romanticized on screen (see “The Soloist,” “Gimme Shelter“). The issue of how our society can allow such a tragedy to befall a person usually gets passed over in favor of our comfortable Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story. By convincing ourselves one person can supersede their circumstances, we gain the illusory certitude that all possess such a capacity.
Oren Moverman’s “Time Out of Mind,” on the other hand, does not even offer the familiar luxury of a traditional narrative. The camera simply trains itself on down-and-out George, played by Richard Gere, as he ambles aimlessly through the streets of New York. Moverman and co-writer Jeffrey Caine never really attempt to penetrate his mind, which has begun to mimic the drifting action of his body, nor do they offer a sociological tract on how he arrived where he is.
The film mostly just presents homelessness as it really is, making its point by not explicitly making a point. “Time Out of Mind” uses George as a protagonist to lead the proceedings, but he’s arguably the least important element in any frame. It’s an outstanding display of incredible humility that Gere allows himself to become such a wallflower, never letting an actor’s vanity get in the way of conveying a greater truth about homelessness.
In a manner simultaneously clinical and deeply felt, the film details both the free range of the streets and the complex bureaucracy intended to capture all in its safety net. Though a detailed audio collage always lets us know what happens in any given scene, Bobby Bukowski’s camera is usually located on the other side of the glass, across the street, or even above George. He sometimes even goes so far as to shoot characters in reflected surfaces, giving us visages of people instead of their actual flesh and blood. Might this be a replication of our own default position towards the homeless?
These long, distant shots of poetic power give “Time Out of Mind” a naturalistic rhythm that proves difficult to shake afterwards. The paradoxes by which it operates lend the film both an intellectual and emotional heft. While it might slightly betray its aesthetic integrity by moving in close in its final scene of emotional confrontation between father and daughter (Jena Malone’s Maggie), this is the only time it rings with a hint of falsity. A- /