“She’s coming back”
One of the easiest things we can do in modern society is marginalize strangers. To laugh and assume we know what has transpired to place some nameless soul in his/her current position only takes a second devoid of context whereas beginning a conversation requires so much more. We reject compassion because it necessitates effort when we’re too busy dealing with our own troubles to carve out time for someone else. That leaves two options: ignore his/her plight altogether or transform him/her into some form of personal entertainment. We quickly divert our eyes when a jingling coffee cup is thrust towards us on the sidewalk while dismissing the crazy old man dancing in the bus shelter with a smile from the safety of our cars.
Writer/director Oren Moverman‘s Time Out of Mind calls us out for this truth, forcing us to notice one of the “invisible” many walking by. Or perhaps he mere places the camera at a window so our own conscience can uncover the reality of our universal ambivalence. If you’ve seen his debut The Messenger you know Moverman isn’t afraid of character-driven paths paved in raw emotion. Like the dual leads there, George Hammond (Richard Gere) is trapped by his own guilt and pride. Lost for a decade with nowhere to go and nothing to live for, he’s awakened as all avenues of blind luck charity have run dry. Unable to retain his own delusion of not being homeless, our meeting him ensures our inability to keep pretending he’s not human.
This is the film’s goal—opening our eyes to the complexity of what those on the streets must endure. It can seem preachy as a result, spinning through its Rolodex of facts and figures to cajole pity, but you cannot say it isn’t an authentic depiction regardless. George’s journey is a microcosm of the life and the constant slamming doors seemingly erected specifically to keep him down with no hope of escape. First he’s removed from the apartment he’s squatting inside because the actual tenant got evicted. Then he’s thrown out of the local Emergency Room because the staff doesn’t legally have to let him seek shelter unless it’s under 32-degrees. And finally he’s given the bureaucratic runaround landing in the system provides.
It’s a desperate life for a desperate man and no matter how kind a heart he has or handsome smile he gives, the majority of New York City would rather ignore him than feel sorry. And those who do want to help are often beholden to a set of rules that increase frustration on all sides. But those rules are in place for a reason and they can prove effective if the target is honest and willing to accept his/her circumstances at face value. Even though George is sleeping on benches and being forcibly removed, he still grasps at the fantasy this existence is temporary. Why does he need to answer so many questions for assistance and permanent shelter when he just needs a bed for two nights?
The road set forth is arduous with one person positioned to make it go away: himself. Yes he has an estranged daughter (Jena Malone‘s Maggie) who could theoretically take him in, but that’s only if you aren’t aware of why they’ve been apart (reasons gradually explained for those patient enough to wait). George’s past is indisputably tragic, but how he chose to endure it is why he’s here. Small passive aggressive gestures seeking a handout won’t mend fences; they’ll simply push Maggie’s disappointment and anger closer to the surface. He must own his actions for sanity’s sake while still holding tightly to his humanity. Seasoned shelter veteran Dixon (Ben Vereen) seeks to remind him that his state doesn’t render him an insignificant clown, but George is too far-gone.
Gere is the best he’s been in years, truly digging deep into this nuanced role with the empathy necessary to treat what his George calls “a cartoon” as a three-dimensional soul. The performance is mostly reactionary via silence, moving through the streets on the fringes because he rejects being one of the homeless while also acknowledging he’s no longer an “up-standing” part of society either. There’s sadness in his eyes and demeanor, a defeated aura that folds him smaller and smaller until every part of the man he was evaporates. This is a man at rock bottom—the very antithesis of the affluent success Gere has built his career upon. He will surprise and inspire as George realizes exactly where he sits.
Despite the power of his portrayal and the honest turns from Kyra Sedgwick, Jeremy Strong, and most especially Vereen (who’s fast-talking, broken Dixon proves one more forgotten face in the crowd we hopefully will use as an example not to forget the next), Moverman’s aesthetic renders them tiny pieces of a much larger ecosystem of which we too are a part. Every shot is either filmed through an obstruction—glass, wire, people, etc.—or voyeuristically zoomed-in from great enough distances that the focus seems shallow with blurred figures in the foreground. Every scene’s volume amplified so the peripheral conversations and city noises surrounding us overwhelm our senses as we watch one man wade through the chaotic noise. More than a movie, this is a depiction of life.
Or at least that’s what Time Out of Mind strives to become. You have to accept the slow pacing and meticulous unfolding of the nightmare that is being a marginalized citizen in a country whose public would rather feed you to the wolves than grant amnesty because you’ll grow resentfully bored if not. The same goes with the constant barrage of dead-ends and kind-hearted people with hands tied. Everything’s relevant to push George to the brink of acceptance, but it’s hardly an easy watch (intentionally so). There’s beauty in its pain and cautious optimism in its end, but the plot’s less about providing character growth than glimpsing behind the veil of middle class complacency. While George must eventually see himself, the goal’s our seeing him in the process.
 Richard Gere (George) in Oren Moverman’s TIME OUT OF MIND. Courtesy of Allison Rosa. An IFC Films Release.
 Ben Vereen (Dixon) in Oren Moverman’s TIME OUT OF MIND. Courtesy of Allison Rosa. An IFC Films Release.
 Jena Malone (Maggie) in Oren Moverman’s TIME OUT OF MIND. Courtesy of Allison Rosa. An IFC Films Release.