Invisibility turned out to be a rather peculiar through-line for a number of my viewings this week. Whether this was a result of having kicked off the week with Oren Moverman's Time Out of Mind or just the juxtaposition of that film with Amy Berg's documentary piece on Janis Joplin, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's hypnotic Cemetery of Splendor, Joachim Trier's disappointingly lucid Louder than Bombs and Jacques Audiard's complex and confused Dheepan is anyone's guess, but nevertheless it's a theme that resonates very strongly in these social-media days where form and function, style and substance are constantly mistaken for each other.
But all of these films turned out to address the idea of invisibility in some way, none more so than Time Out of Mind, an earnest, intelligent adult drama that has not earned the recognition it truly deserves. It seems to be a recurrent problem for its writer/director; Mr. Moverman, who has worked with Todd Haynes and Ira Sachs, ran strong out of the gate with the fondly-remembered The Messenger, a film that reminded us of just how good Woody Harrelson can be, but has since stumbled on the US film scene's inability to know what to do with the sort of modest character-driven stories that he excels at. Time Out of Mind isn't helped by its subject matter - homelessness, as seen through the tale of George Hammond, who has been living on NYC's Skid Row for years now, and keeps shuttling from abandoned squats to hospital waiting rooms to bureaucratic controlled shelters.
With no personal papers or ID documents to his name, no address, no income, George is well and truly invisible; he has slipped out of the everyday world into a desolate limbo simultaneously outside and inside the city. Mr. Moverman and his DP, Bobby Bukowski, reinforce his isolation by shooting many scenes from the inside looking out - with slow, stately zoom pans from behind the windows and the doors across the street from where George is, showing how this man is lost in the city. That George is played by a bona fide Hollywood star, Richard Gere, is obviously not casual, it plays on the "there but for the grace of God go I" pledge that underlines a lot of basic, decent humanity.
But the casting of Mr. Gere is both Time Out of Mind's strength and its weakness. There's nothing at all wrong with the actor's performance, whose roles haven't often allowed him to go as deep as he can go (in his early days he was in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven and his big break came under Paul Schrader in American Gigolo), Mr. Moverman can't always make us forget that we're watching a movie star play a homeless man; even if the idea is to show there is still some dignity in this man, Mr. Gere seems occasionally too "groomed" to be entirely convincing, especially when up against Kyra Sedgwick's quasi-cameo as a cart lady or Ben Vereen's Dixon, the jabbering, confused homeless who befriends George in a shelter and starts tagging along. Also, the on-and-off relationship between George and his bartending daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) that seems to be one of the plot's engines turns out to feel like a bolted-on anchor to prevent the film from floating out into aimlessness, but it conforms a little bit too much to standard plot-driven melodrama to work entirely within this context.
For all that, the heart of Time Out of Mind is in the right place, and Mr. Moverman pulls it off through the quietly observational, empathetic moments where his almost candid camera simply watches Mr. Gere move through New York. In these moments it almost seems like a distant yet still related cousin to Lionel Rogosin's striking study of alcoholism and homelessness, On the Bowery, its plot just as loose and character-driven, all necessary information being parceled out in bribes as needed. It reminds you that both director and star are very underrated players in contemporary American cinema and that there's something really wrong when something like Time Out of Mind plays under the radar.
TIME OUT OF MIND
US, 2014, 121 minutes
CAST Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeremy Strong, Yul Vazquez, Michael Kenneth Williams, Steve Buscemi; DIR/SCR Oren Moverman; based on a story by Jeffrey Caine and Mr. Moverman; DP Bobby Bukowski (widescreen); PROD DES Kelly McGehee; COST DES Catherine George; ED Alex Hall; PROD Mr. Gere, Lawrence Inglee, Caroline Kaplan, Edward Walson, Miranda Bailey and Bill Pohlad; Gere Productions and Blackbird Productions in association with Cold Iron Pictures, River Road Entertainment and QED International