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Movie Review of the Week: “Time Out of Mind”

Movie Review of the Week: “Time Out of Mind”
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Just as it’s easier to avert one’s eyes on the street from a passed out homeless person, or a begging vagrant, it might be tempting to avoid this effective docu-drama from Oren Moverman, the director of the equally powerful “The Messenger” and “Rampart”. But that would be a mistake. Moverman, not scared to confront searing social issues, turns his camera on America’s homeless and captures a slice of life with cinema verité observational skill and documentary detail.

Richard Gere appears in the film and produces also, but it is anything but a “star” turn. Rendering himself almost invisible, Gere blurs into the fabric of the film, a moving tableau of the life of the indigent George Hammond. Filming on the streets of New York City, Moverman positions his cameraman (the inventive Bobby Bukowski) far away from his actor, capturing the teeming city and bustling crowds as they literally walk right past the movie star.  With his gray stubble and woolly beanie, Gere becomes one of the faceless, nameless unwashed. No one recognizes him as he ferrets in trash cans or pleadingly holds out a coffee cup.

I found myself searching the crowds for myself. Maybe I was one of the busy people with no time for a fellow human in need. But Moverman isn’t interested in laying blame or inciting guilt. He merely presents the situation and explores the quagmire that being homeless engenders. Hammond, without any paperwork or ID, can’t get food stamps or welfare. Once he has decided to try and improve his lot, he is stuck in a revolving door of bureaucracy, lines, and waiting rooms.

There is a haunting sadness to George and Gere gives one of his most nuanced performances as this confused, regret-filled man. How did George get this way? Moverman (who also scripted) doesn’t explicate, but we glean details along the way. Gere’s still handsome and patrician bearing hints that George was once more than an alcoholic down and out. And the way he trails after and longingly watches a young woman (Jena Malone) suggests he once had loved ones, even family.

As Moverman’s camera follows George, often obscured behind glass windows or through doorways, we hear snatches of random, overheard conversations. In fact, I was reminded very much of Coppola’s “The Conversation” from 1974. “Time out of Mind” has the same visual palate and sound design. Street noise and passersby provide the soundtrack, a cacophony of uncaring noise that adds to our discomfort in stepping into George’s shoes if only for 2 hours.

Among the sea of faces on the streets, shelters and ER waiting rooms, a few come into focus but do not overpower the truth of the story. Steve Buscemi, Kyra Sedgwick, Abigail Savage, Brian d’Arcy James register. And Ben Vereen (“All that Jazz”), as Dixon, a chatty bunkmate, is particularly affecting. Through his relationship with Dixon, George, initially unable to admit that he is actually homeless, seems finally to focus in on his problems. Acceptance might be the first step towards change for the lost soul on the screen.

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