Glamorous stars taking on decidedly unglamorous roles – it’s nothing new. It’s usually a way for a star to say, “I’m an actor!” That sort of declaration is understandable, when an actor is reduced to their physical features. Sometimes, a star is able to actually shift public opinion. The go-to example this century would have to be Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning turn in Monster, or possibly Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar-winning (notice a trend here?) turn in Dallas Buyers Club. Making a case of his own this year is Richard Gere, who’s largely found himself in roles that are more affluent. “Affluent” is not a word to describe his role as George, a homeless man at the center of Time Out of Mind.
What’s remarkable about Time Out of Mind is its focus on character, to the point of becoming almost completely plotless. This is an unflinching look at homelessness in New York City, where the day-to-day mundane actions of George represent just some of the things homeless people have to face. George frequently stumbles the city in a mixture of exhaustion, drunkenness and confusion. He looks for places to rest and begs for change. For a stretch in the film, he befriends another homeless man (Ben Vereen), and he intermittently comes into contact with his daughter (Jena Malone), who despises him for reasons that are never completely made clear. But George is largely alone, fighting against nature, society, and – most frustratingly – bureaucracy. Those bureaucratic encounters provide most of the frustration, as George is forced to go through numerous hoops to get a bed in a shelter, or try to find a way to get a Social Security card without a job, a permanent home, or any form of identification.
Writer/director Oren Moverman approaches the material in interesting ways. Many of the scenes are shot using long lenses, which allow George (and Gere) to walk through the crowds of New York. He also shoots Gere through windows or in the corners of the frame. Gere doesn’t quite disappear, but he comes close to being easy to ignore in many of the shots. Moverman also chooses to let scenes be filled with background noise and conversations off-camera, creating a sense that George is being ignored by the world around him.
As for Gere, he certainly deglams for the role. His typically lengthy hair is cut short here, with nicks and abrasions covering his head. His facial hair is patchy, and his hair color shows a mixture of colors. It’s far from the typical Gere appearance. He’s also clearly giving the film everything he has. He abandons the charisma that he normally deploys in films. He’s rough, and it’s clear that he’s suffering. Still, he doesn’t completely disappear into the role, which may be the film’s biggest (and perhaps unavoidable) fault. Even when he’s purposefully avoiding many of the qualities audiences associate with him, he’s still Richard Gere. Because of that, this well-intentioned film doesn’t always hit the way it wants or intends. When it does, though, Time Out of Mind creates a view of the world that needs more examination.