“Time Out Of Mind” Proves That Even Great Directors Take On Too Much

By Scott Kurland
Film: Time Out 
Starring: Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, and Kyra Sedgwick
Rated PG
Director: Oren Moverman

It’s really hard to tell a good story about the homeless. That might sound a little harsh but it’s true. For every great film we get like “Fisher King” or “Trading Places”, we get ten versions of “Down and Out In Beverly Hills” and about a dozen “With Honors” knock offs. Homelessness is a serious problem that faces the world on a global scale. Film should be a medium to help get that point across, but no one really knows how to show that kind of grit. For some reason the homeless come across as either alcoholics, escaped mental patients, or both. This week’s film “Time Out Of Mind” is acclaimed director Oren Moverman’s attempt to address the homelessness problem in New York City. Does he succeed? Let’s find out shall we?

“Time Out of Mind” is the story of George (Richard Gere) a homeless man living in New York. He’s been bouncing from place to place, trying to find a bed to sleep in. Most importantly he’s looking for somewhere to call home. He has no money, no job, and his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) doesn’t want anything to do with him. George finally excepts his situation and joins a men’s shelter. There George becomes friends with a mysterious chatterbox by the name of Dixon (Ben Vereen) and together they navigate George’s diminishing mental state.

This film has two problems. The first is that it is stylized and observational. There’s dialog in the film but most of the film is shot from a far or wide angles to give us the impression that we’re seeing George the way the world sees him. We catch him in glimpses in corner booths, or from the outside looking in. We watch from a far as he tries to hold a conversation as he pan handles. However, by doing this, by giving us a slanted view of George we only get half the story. If we had straight forward dialog, decent camera angles, and were able to pinpoint the plot; I’d be able to recommend this film. Sadly I can’t. The second problem I had was how dull the material is. The story is very routine, even though the characters are interesting the story never evolves. I can look past all that, but the one glaring problem. The big issue i had that made me not want to recommend this film is this, these characters only speak in sentence fragments which causes the film to suffer. That’s right we get half finished dialog. I don’t mean they cut each other off. I mean they start talking; then for no particular reason they stop speaking mid sentence.

All the actors do their best with the source material, but the authenticity does  not come across. Gere does well with the character of George; but George is completely out of his mind. George isn’t a very likable character. George is both abrasive and aloof at the same time, which makes for an uneven character. Actually all of the characters are intense and unwelcoming from Steve Buscemi’s brief cameo to Jena Malone’s Maggie.The only decent role in this film is Ben Vereen’s Dixon and that’s only because he’s mentally ill and spouts off street-preacher wisdom. There’s over a dozen characters in this film and only one out of this twelve is likable, and he isn’t even the lead. That’s just sloppy filmmaking.

     I see what Oren Moverman was trying to do with all the characters in this movie. Moverman is trying to show us all the people who briefly come in and out of our lives, and how important their insignificance is to us. Yet, he misses the mark. Moverman’s past films “Rampart” and “The Messenger” were brilliant films about flawed people. This third outing is lacking original vision from those past films. He tries new and interesting techniques that might seem great on paper; however, they don’t transition well on to screen. “Time Out Of Mind” feels like a film that should be a brilliant commentary piece about the homeless situation in America. Notice how I say ‘should’? This film should be many things, but it isn’t. 

“Time Out Of Mind” isn’t a bad film, it’s just incredibly boring and unoriginal. Moverman shows some promise in his experimentation with that avant garde  story telling. Still, “Time Out Of Mind” is a clear example of biting off more than you can chew. There are some people who might enjoy the film and what it is trying to do. For the rest of us, “Time Out Of Mind” will be one of those IFC Channel movies people watch on a friday night when there’s nothing else on.

scott kurlandComment