Time Out of Mind

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Oren Moverman

Starring

Ben Vereen Jena Malone Richard Gere

Anticipation.

This one has taken a while to reach UK cinemas following its 2014 Toronto Film Festival premiere.

Enjoyment.

But it was worth the wait. A challenging film, but a challenge worth taking on.

In Retrospect.

It peters out on the home stretch, but there’s so much here that’s impressive.

Richard Gere channels the bruised (in)dignity of life on the streets of New York City in this thoughtful drama.

Oren Moverman is an example of a great filmmaker who has yet to make a great film. This one almost breaks the curse. But not quite. He builds movies that draw on all the senses, sometimes simultaneously. His latest, Time Out of Mind, even manages to evoke a pungent whiff from its careworn setting – the gutters and sidewalks of New York City. Moverman doesn’t just film actors speaking lines, or chose to develop stories in conventional ways. He’s a filmmaker thinking about perspectives, about where to place the camera in order to heighten, enrich and complicate the viewing experience.

His strategy for this highly impressive film is to have the camera assume the position of a passive voyeur, peering in through windows, around a corner, or monitoring the action from across a street. Richard Gere assumes the role of taciturn transient, George, who, in the film’s opening sequence, is tossed out of a building development in which he has chosen to hibernate. Moverman is coy about revealing why Gere is on the streets and with nowhere to go. He doesn’t tell us what happened in his life to cause this melancholy decline.

Eric Rohmer’s 1962 debut feature The Sign of Leo – one of the progenitors of the French New Wave – is a rare example of this subject matter (the life and loneliness of a tramp) being dealt with absolutely head on. So this movie is certainly on fertile ground, thematically speaking at least. And as with that film, this is an unsexy subject that Moverman refuses to sentimentalise.

George isn’t just his ambling conduit to the world of homeless shelters, nights riding the Subway for warmth, getting what you can from hospitals overrun with patients, and attempting to get your life back on track. It’s political, but subtly so. It’s also a character study which stands at a cautious remove, wanting to find out what makes George tick, but not wanting to get too close to generalise his situation.

There’s no real plot to the film, although George does make a few half-hearted attempts to reconnect with his daughter, played by Jena Malone. What makes the film special is the sensual experience it concocts through the editing and sound design. Sometimes George may be talking to a staff nurse or a homeless companion, but his voice will be kept low in the mix. On one occasion we’re in a room overlooking another room, the music we can hear playing suggesting that whoever we’re with in this moment is watching the first series of True Detective.

Far from being a mere gimmick, this is Moverman’s attempt to frame his hero as a person who we only see across a divide or through some kind of social partition. It lends the film an air of realism and light tragedy, as well as some much needed objectivity. This is a portrait of life below the margins that emphasises the day-to-day struggle, but always imbues George with dignity and a certain scruffy grace.

Published 3 Mar 2016

Anticipation.

This one has taken a while to reach UK cinemas following its 2014 Toronto Film Festival premiere.

Enjoyment.

But it was worth the wait. A challenging film, but a challenge worth taking on.

In Retrospect.

It peters out on the home stretch, but there’s so much here that’s impressive.

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