Time Out of Mind, Oren Moverman’s latest, is sometimes compelling, sometimes exasperating, and often hugely frustrating. That doesn’t stop it from being an occasionally poignant tale of homelessness and mental illness, but it just doesn’t know when to quit.
When I write it doesn’t know when to quit, I don’t mean like Ironweed or The Pursuit of Happyness or The Soloist, movies featuring homeless characters that are so bleak as to leave the audience despondent; I mean Moverman doesn’t know when to get out of the way and let his story tell itself.
There is so much street noise, background chatter and brouhaha from moment to moment in Time Out of Mind that it eventually starts to overpower the narrative. It’s not like Moverman’s choices don’t make sense; George (Richard Gere, mostly avoiding Richard Gere-isms) is framed throughout much of the movie so as to appear invisible to people around him. Moverman places the camera across the street from George, or down a hallway or inside a store peering out so that he is eclipsed by his surroundings and buried beneath natural sound. But eventually it’s overwhelming, as if Moverman doesn’t trust the audience to make the connection that George is completely marginalized.
That’s to say nothing of George’s plight. While it doesn’t look easy, it also looks like cafeteria-style homelessness—take the stuff audiences can handle and leave out the truly horrible stuff.
We first meet George squatting in a Queens apartment. He’s asleep in the bathtub and kicked out by a contractor (Steve Buscemi) looking to clean the place up. It’s also here that we see George may suffer from some kind of mental illness—he’s distracted, but not because he was just shaken awake. It’s mild as far as movie mental illness goes, but not so mild it doesn’t keep George from being homeless.
George ends up selling his winter coat for alcohol (a trick he returns to again and again) and lands in a shelter. It’s at this point the movie strains some credibility; George acts as if he has no idea how shelters operate.
Of course, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe one of the symptoms of whatever affliction he suffers is an inability to remember things. But it’s not clear from the screenplay how George does and doesn’t know things.
Eventually, George makes a sort-of friend in Dixon (Ben Vereen—where has this guy been?), a homeless maybe-jazz musician who pisses off everyone he meets, even George. But George needs help, and Dixon fills that void.
Moverman makes a wise decision to let Dixon be the needy one in this uneasy friendship; that way the movie avoids becoming a Homelessness 101 class. Plus, the Dixon character teases some information out of George that we may not otherwise learn.
Mostly, though, we remain distanced from George (except when he’s sitting in Battery Park with homeless Kyra Sedgwick [!!], the Statue of Liberty shimmering behind them, as if we haven’t gotten the message), and that’s a smart choice. It makes it harder to spot the stunt casting (including Michael K Williams, and Jena Malone as George’s estranged daughter) and also gives Gere the space to let the performance do the expositing.
For anyone hoping Moverman has made a movie as affecting as The Messenger, wonder no more. This isn’t it. It’s more like Rampart—good but muddled, as if it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a piece of entertainment or a polemic. Such is life.
TIME OUT OF MIND
Directed by Oren Moverman
With Gere, Malone and Vereen