For many Americans, the prospect of living on the streets is probably only a couple of missed paychecks away. Richard Gere is not one of those people, but he plays one in Oren Moverman’s “Time Out of Mind.”
Yes, there is a problem with glamorous movie stars slumming down to stretch their acting range and earn hoped-for Oscar attention. And homeless people do not have other stars popping in for cameos, like Steve Buscemi playing a mean building manager or Kyra Sedgwick as a bag lady with a cart full of cans.
But this is no exercise in miserabilism. Instead Moverman and Gere take a problem and elevate it into a universal experience, turning social issues into existential insights. Gere’s immersive performance as a New York City vagrant and Moverman’s deceptively simple, pseudo-verite style, plus a scene-stealing turn by Ben Vereen, make “Time” pass rewardingly.
George Hammond (Gere) starts a typical day prodded awake by Buscemi’s callous functionary. Hammond has spent the night in a bathtub in an apartment that some woman has allowed him to crash in. But she’s been evicted, and Hammond must go. Which, after hanging around and insisting he’s “between things,” he does.
The options are limited. He falls asleep on the street, and punks steal (then mockingly return) his shoes. He needs booze, so he pawns his coat (despite his indigence, Hammond preserves a whiff of gentility), gets another one from a church and pawns that as well. He watches from afar his estranged daughter (Jena Malone), then approaches her and is rejected, more than once.
He ends up at a homeless shelter, where Dixon (Vereen), an irascible motor-mouth, befriends him. Then Dixon vanishes. “People are just gone sometimes,” Hammond mutters. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Shot from afar or through windows, or in reflections of windows, Hammond melts into his surroundings, its noises, its traffic, its disdaining crowds. Though “Time” can’t compare with Ben and Joshua Safdie’s “Heaven Knows What” (2014), which was written by and starred a young addict and was based on her experiences, it does make the phrase “there but for the grace of God” seem less of a cliché. And if Gere and Moverman get Oscars for it, they deserve them.
★ ★ ★
TIME OUT OF MIND
Directed by Oren Moverman. Written by Moverman and Jeffrey Caine. Starring Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick. At Kendall Square. Running time 122 minutes. Unrated