Sep 11, 2015

Time Out Of Mind

In Time Out Of Mind, Richard Gere plays a homeless man. This must be a feather in the actoral cap, as coveted as roles that call for drunks or geniuses with disabilities. Gere may very well get a nomination for his troubles, because these are the kinds of roles the Academy voters like. He has always been a very charismatic movie star, if not the most versatile actor. Here, grizzled and made to look bad (an impossible task) he has some good moments, but his limitations as an actor are also evident. He tends to mug a bit.
Written and directed by Oren Moverman, the movie explores what daily life is like for the homeless in New York City. It shows us that these people have pasts, and lives, and are trying hard to belong, at the very least to be seen. Moverman uses well known actors (in particular a great Ben Vereen and Kyra Sedgwick) and he has written a story, not just decided to ape reality. He does not pretend to speak or dream for the homeless. He is trying to get into their experience. We get a glimpse into life in the homeless shelters and a dispiriting, if fleeting, view of what it is like to live on the streets. Although it succeeds in moving us in spurts, the movie is bogged down by cursory writing and too much style.
Moverman and his cinematographer Billy Bukowski make some conceptual choices that they can't easily get out of. In order to express how the homeless are like ghosts among the living, they resort to shooting everything through panes of glass, windows, doors, frames within frames. This is a powerful device, but when deployed in almost every scene, it distracts from the story and robs presence to the actors, who are giving their all only to be shot through fifteen layers of glass. The sound design is also supposed to imitate New York, but instead of summoning reality, it sounds completely artificial. Every tangential conversation is heard at the same blistering level. The entire movie sounds like the opening of The Conversation; not necessarily a good thing. It is a fact of life in New York that we learn to ignore the sonic onslaught (just as we learn to ignore the rats and the homeless), so that we don't all go insane. It's not as if every single person on the street is screaming in our ear. Again, as an introduction to the disorientation of the main character it is a powerful device, but used all through the movie, it becomes highly annoying. In this movie, there seems to be more concern for trying to replicate the experience of homelessness than for telling a compelling, coherent story.
I never understood what was wrong with Gere's character. Did he suffer from amnesia, was he damaged by drugs and alcohol, was he in denial? What happened to him?  It is valid not to give us a glimpse of his former sheltered life. We see many homeless people on the street we don't know anything about, though we surmise that they had a home and a family once. His powerlessness and invisibility are sobering enough for all of us to think "there but for the grace of God...", but it is a problem in terms of clarity. There is also a business with his bartender daughter (a self-conscious Jena Malone) who is sore over his abandonment that has been seen before (in The Wrestler, for example, where it doesn't work either). Moverman has been more direct and precise with the story in films like The Messenger and Rampart. In Time Out Of Mind there lies a better movie buried beneath all the artifice.

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