'Time Out of Mind' movie review: Haunting portrait of the homeless
In short: After he is kicked out of the apartment where he's been squatting, mentally ill transient George (Gere) wanders Manhattan in search of refuge. While he attempts to find a safe place to rest, he also tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone). Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick and Steve Buscemi also star. (Watch the trailer)
"Time Out of Mind" is an empathetic film that thrusts the audience in the uncomfortable, cold and exhausted shoes of a regularhomeless man. This is not a typical narrative framed within the three-act story structure - this film effectively drops the viewer into the daily plight of a homeless man. Admittedly, "Time Out of Mind" requires a bit of patience on the part of the audience -- this is a quiet and observational "slice-of-life" that moves with a deliberate pace. While the film initially appears rudderless and meandering, it is in fact establishing the dire realities of homelessness.
This film never resorts to melodrama or big action -- the brilliance of "Time Out of Mind" is its total commitment to nuanced moments that are always rooted in life-or-death stakes. One particularly effective scene simply tracks George as he tries to sleep on a bench. He is never able to get comfortable on the cold, hard and cramped outdoor bench -- where the whine of sirens never cease and harassing kids have no problem messing with George. The challenges of just trying to survive the cold night are obvious - but the cumulative effect of little-to-no sleep on this exhausted man is alarming.
"Time Out of Mind" is especially effective due to Gere's powerful and nuanced performance. His quiet and subtle performance is the human and relatable core of this everyday tragedy. While George is the sympathetic core of the film, he is also a flawed man. He is a victim of harassment by callous people -- but he is also an aloof and scheming alcoholic who has found a disappointing, if creative, scheme to funding his alcoholism. This well-rounded character is presented as an everyman who - like most of us - is just a few bad decisions or bits of bad luck away from being on the street. Gere deserves consideration during Award Season for his brilliant performance.
While a myriad of characters pop in and out of this film, the undeniable supporting character is the public itself. George is an invisible man -- except when the public's indifference turns to paranoia or suspicion. Whether George is laying down near a throng of New Yorkers or begging for change, he is generally treated as if he does not exist. And those who must acknowledge George also impose strict rules on the homeless, as if to make it easier to throw homeless people back out on the street and harder to give them a bed for the night.
In this respect, "Time Out of Mind" has a clear agenda and evident social message -- but this film's patience and observational execution is very effective in urging sympathy for the homeless. Although the movie has a clear objective, it never feels heavy handed or manipulative. This film is a master class in powerful storytelling and proof that compelling stories can be rooted in using actions (not words).
Final verdict: Gere's performance brings heartbreaking humanity to a forgotten segment of society. The incredible screenplay is stirring in its ability to evoke strong reactions from the everyday indignities and challenges the homeless face.
"Time Out of Mind" screened at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival opens in additional cities nationwide Oct. 9 and is unrated.