Richard Gere plays a homeless man in Oren Moverman’s arty odyssey Time Out of Mind, though it takes him half the movie to admit that he’s homeless, and he bridles whenever he hears his name, George Hammond. He tells people he’s with someone called Sheila who’s nowhere to be seen, and when social workers ask for an I.D. or birth certificate, he looks bewildered. Moving blank-faced from nowhere to nowhere, using any money he can get to buy beer or hooch, Hammond exists out of time — if he can even be said to exist.
No movie has ever looked like this. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski’s frames are rigorously decentered, with key objects pushed to the periphery or semi-seen via reflections or through glass. The soundtrack maintains a constant low drone and babble: The dialogue rarely comes from someone whose mouth you see move. (This is often the case with films that need to be post-synced for financial reasons, but here it’s a choice.) When Hammond goes in search of his daughter (Jena Malone), who works at a seedy-hip bar, he hovers far away, like a phantom, always at the edge of the screen — though she’s far away and at the edge of the screen, too.
Co-produced by Gere, Time Out of Mind is plainly the product of years of research and commitment. Some well-known actors — Steve Buscemi, Kyra Sedgwick, Michael Kenneth Williams — float through, always at a distance. Malone is very fine in her brief scenes, and there’s a delicate turn by Geraldine Hughes as a hospital’s social worker. Ben Vereen gives a spirited performance as a garrulous homeless man, but a closer camera would have helped — I wanted to see his face.
Moverman is attempting something hugely ambitious with Time Out of Mind: a socially conscious, existential-displacement art movie. I think it would have worked better with a little less rigor and a little more intimacy. Gere is a very likable actor, but he abstracts himself and turns his face into a mask. Whatever is happening inside his character doesn’t read. I know that the look and sound of the film are meant to evoke what’s in his head, but two hours is a long time to spend with your eyes roaming the frame for something to fix on. Can a humanist movie afford to be so relentlessly alienating?
*This article appears in the September 7, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.