NYFF ’14: Richard Gere’s Time Out of Mind
It sounds like the the blueprint for a painfully mawkish movie: Richard Gere stars as a homeless man struggling to survive on the streets of New York City and reconnect with his estranged daughter. But Time Out of Mind, which has been making the rounds of the festival circuit (most recently in New York) in search of a distributor, is nothing short of a miracle.
That’s thanks in large part to cowriter-director Oren Moverman, who made my favorite film of 2011, the LAPD drama Rampart (which didn’t come out until 2012) and now may have made my favorite film of 2014, which may not come out until 2015 unless a company steps up and acquires this challenging yet deeply rewarding film.
True, Gere’s a little too good-looking to pass himself off as your average vagrant, but Moverman wisely addresses this directly, as a homeless-shelter intake worker compliments his character. “I’m not handsome,” Gere’s George demurs. “I used to be handsome.” He acknowledges that several women have taken him in, until they gave him the boot. But the movie intriguingly goes light on George’s backstory, instead putting you right in the middle of his disorienting, overwhelming world.
Shot by the great Bobby Bukowski with long lenses that allowed real-life passersby to pass Gere by without recognizing him (or the fact that they were serving as unwitting background actors in a movie), Time Out of Mind unfolds at a hypnotically deliberate pace. George tries and mostly fails to navigate his way through the city bureaucracy in search of a bed (“I’m addicted to sleep,” he tells one of the many clerks who inquire about his substance abuse, among other issues).
Gere leads an remarkable ensemble, including an Oscar-worthy Ben Vereen as George’s incessantly chattering shelter pal, Jena Malone as his brittle bartender daughter, an almost unrecognizable Kyra Sedgwick as his homeless hookup and Boardwalk Empire‘s Steve Buscemi (as well as his lookalike brother Michael) and Michael Kenneth Williams as two of the many Manhattanites who hassle him.
What’s most amazing about Time Out of Mind, though, is its multi-layered sound design. As George attempts to clear his head, he’s constantly bombarded by the noises of the city—snippets of overheard conversations (some scripted, some captured surreptitiously by the filmmakers), sirens, construction work, and all varieties of music. It’s a symphonic cacophony, and it perfectly captures the chaos that surrounds its central character.
This may not be an easy film to watch—one New York Film Festivalgoer accurately called it “the antithesis of a date movie.” But Moverman and Co. should take that as the ultimate compliment. Time Out of Mind evokes grittily realistic American films of the ’70s like Scarecrow yet remains bracingly relevant. It’s both timely and timeless.