September 12, 2014


Homeless people are cursed with invisibility.  We see them but don’t see them.  We know their behavior, but refuse to acknowledge these people for a variety of personal reasons.  Perhaps we ignore the homeless because they’re a direct look at human suffering on our streets, and we feel helpless to do anything substantial to change their circumstances.  Oren Moverman’s Time out of Mind is well intentioned in its desire to depict the daily life of a homeless person, but the director can’t develop this depiction as anything more than a distant, almost cold observation.  Additionally, Richard Gere is horribly miscast in the lead role, which further pushes us away from an issue we’d prefer to ignore in the first place.

George (Gere) wakes up in a bathtub in an abandoned, run-down apartment and is told he has to leave.  With a suitcase and a garbage bag filled with various items, George wanders around the streets of New York City trying to find a place to stay and pass the days.  He’s afraid to approach his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) and usually sells his coat for a six-pack before going to pick up a new one at a church.  When George moves into the shelter system, the hopelessness of his situation becomes more apparent as his mental illness, despondency, and complete lack of resources make it almost impossible for him to even get a form of ID.

He’s a non-person, and everything George endures feels real, but never illuminating.   George’s actions feel like a list of things any homeless person would do rather as opposed to actions that are specific to an individual.  He’s almost a blank slate, so Moverman is free to bounce George to an emergency room to show that homeless people can stay there but only if it’s below freezing.  We see George panhandle and eat out of trashcans.  And citizens mostly ignore him unless he gets in the way.  In a thoughtful touch, Moverman shoots a large portion of the film at a distance, frequently putting the cameras behind windows.  Part of this is practical since it allows Moverman to capture a natural reaction from people passing by as opposed to having them stop and notice the film crew.  The other part of the cinematography is that it reminds us of how we view the homeless.


However, we don’t really need that reminder.  Putting George behind glass windows makes him an animal under observation.  His behavior is depressing, but there’s no reason to emotionally engage him.  This is how we tend to interact with the homeless, but I don’t need a movie to tell me that or recreate that experience.  What we need is to empathize rather than observe otherwise we’re just being scolded instead of informed

It would have been easier to get caught up in George’s struggles if not for the casting of Richard Gere.  Rather than casting a character actor who could perhaps more easily disappear into the role, the movie continues to make A Statement™ by showing how people don’t even glance at someone who looks homeless and yet they would be happy to get a photo with Richard Gere.  It’s true, but also obvious.  Gere’s a good actor, but he’s wrong for the part not only because of his fame, but also because of his good looks, and he’s more at home in roles of wealthy, successful people like his performances in Pretty Woman, Chicago, and Arbitrage just to name a few.  And it’s not like Moverman had to use an unknown or it’s impossible for a well-known actor to play a homeless person.  I had to do a triple-take and double-check online to confirm that Kyra Sedgwick was in the movie.

When Gere is inevitably interviewed for Time out of Mind, I imagine he’ll say that one of the reasons he took the role was because it was an important issue and they wanted to give a voice to the homeless.  I’m sure everyone else involved with the movie would say something similar if asked.  Unfortunately, the film’s noble intentions come off as patronizing and pedantic as we watch a homeless man go through motions we’ve seen while trying to turn a blind eye.

Rating: D

Click here for all of our TIFF 2014 coverage.  Click on the links below for our other TIFF 2014 reviews:

Time out of Mind Review

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