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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Time Out of Mind’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Time Out of Mind'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“Time Out of Mind”
Dir: Oren Moverman
Criticwire Average: B

A film of observation and subtle truths, “Time Out of Mind” follows the trials and tribulations of homelessness, mental illness, and family estrangement. Richard Gere plays George, a man who has been squatting in an apartment building only to be reluctantly forced out into the street by the building manager. George lives in the shadows, sleeping a little bit here, drinking a little bit there, and spying on his bartender daughter (Jena Malone) who has kicked him out of her life. When he eventually resides at a shelter, he makes friends with a chatty inhabitant Dixon (Ben Vereen) who tries to convince him to reconnect with his daughter. Director Oren Moverman has created an observational film, often capturing George from a distance and in the corners of the frame, as if he’s part of an indifferent background. Mostly plotless, “Time Out of Mind” is an exercise in empathy for the vagrants and the fuck-ups who can’t quite seem to hock a second chance. The film has garnered mostly positive reception, with many citing Moverman’s good intentioned portrait of a type of character usually pushed to the side even in film. Though some have cited sheer implausibility at the idea of Richard Gere playing a homeless man, many critics believed that his purposefully unglamorous performance is the highlight of the film. “Time Out of Mind” is in theaters now.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Sean Burns, Spliced Personality

The journey of “Time Out of Mind” – this mesmerizing and extremely moving new film from writer-director Oren Moverman – is twofold. On one level it’s about George reclaiming his name and his old life, learning where to ask for help and when to ask for forgiveness, to finally assert that he indeed exists. Yet none of this is presented within the conventionally satisfying beats of your standard social-issue melodrama. In fact, I’m quickly discovering that “Time Out Of Mind’s” hard-boiled austerity has been a real deal-breaker for certain audiences. Gere’s aged into a fascinatingly recessive actor, finding a haunted stillness leagues beyond his youthful strut. But this also means he’s not always the easiest guy to warm up to, and the character of George hasn’t exactly been written to play upon our sympathy. He’s brusque and a little bit out of it, a pissy drunk working from a slowed-down time signature in which idle days run indistinguishably into one another…It takes awhile to notice, but as “Time Out Of Mind” goes on, Gere gradually emerges from the margins and begins to take center stage. The windows and reflective glass panes that cinematographer Bobby Bukowksi so meticulously arranged between us and the character fall away. When George can finally speak honestly for the first time with his estranged daughter (an excellent-as-always Jena Malone) it’s the first scene that’s shot like a regular movie, and the last scene of this one. Read more.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“Time Out of Mind” isn’t a study of social injustice or individual pathology; it’s neither an exploration of the problem of homelessness nor a cautionary tale about the dangers of heavy drinking. Mr. Moverman’s previous efforts as a director (“The Messenger” and “Rampart”) were intense, interesting and overburdened with plot. Some of his screenwriting projects — notably his scripts for Todd Haynes’s “I’m Not There” and Bill Pohlad’s “Love and Mercy” — have felt freer and looser, willing to chase threads of reality even at the expense of structure. This movie’s best and truest quality may be its wandering, episodic rhythm, which is intriguing in its own right and reflects the experience of the main character. Read more.

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

Gere uses the opportunity to strip himself entirely of artifice, and it’s a marvel of anti-technique. As we come to learn (very little) about George, as he’s called, we fixate on only what can be seen and heard: some scary-looking head wounds, a tendency to quietly mumble to himself, restless sleep patterns, a shapeless stumble. He eventually comes into contact with another street person (Tony-winner Ben Vereen), as talkative as George is reserved. Thrown together, they share some misadventures in Kips Bay’s noisy bed-for-a-night homeless shelter Bellevue, where bureaucracy and racial unease fill in the nightmarish picture. Read more.

A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

Moverman films this stripped-bare material in unconventional and unintuitive ways, glimpsing Gere through windows, placing him against reflective surfaces (which occasionally creates expressive Wong Kar-Wai smears of color), and isolating him in lonely quadrants of the frame. The director shot many scenes using long lenses, mostly to capture him among the real hustle-and-bustle of New York, rather than surrounding the actor with an obtrusive camera crew. The result is close to the opposite of what Tsai Ming-liang achieved in his recent, similarly themed “Stray Dogs”: Whereas Tsai used the camera to force audiences to look long and hard at the type of people they usually willfully look away from, Moverman mimics the way many city-dwellers actually see the homeless — in quick, peripheral glances, often as part of the wallpaper of the city. The soundtrack, a din of crowd noise and random off-camera conversations, only enhances the sense that we’re watching someone who’s largely ignored by the world around him. Artful and purposeful though this strategy is, it’s hard not to wonder if the material might be better suited by a starker aesthetic — one that would keep the focus squarely locked on George’s weary, weathered face. Then again, maybe Moverman knew the limitations of his star and figured it was better not to throw his performance under the microscope. Gere isn’t coasting here; he suffers, he cries, he never once leans on his tried-and-true charisma. But neither does he truly disappear into the part, into the desperation and despair of this broke and broken man. It’s always just Richard Gere up there on screen, and that, coupled with a number of distracting star cameos (by Steve Buscemi, by Kyra Sedgwick, by Michael K. Williams), works as an impediment to involvement. After a while, you’re just watching someone famous pretend to be someone invisible, in a film much easier to admire for its noble aims than its accomplishments. Read more.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Moverman is attempting something hugely ambitious with “Time Out of Mind”: a socially conscious, existential-displacement art movie. I think it would have worked better with a little less rigor and a little more intimacy. Gere is a very likable actor, but he abstracts himself and turns his face into a mask. Whatever is happening inside his character doesn’t read. I know that the look and sound of the film are meant to evoke what’s in his head, but two hours is a long time to spend with your eyes roaming the frame for something to fix on. Can a humanist movie afford to be so relentlessly alienating? Read more.

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