Human of New York: Time Out of Mind

time out of mind

Time Out of Mind
Directed by Oren Moverman
Opens September 9

Oren Moverman has only directed three features, but the small sample size is potent. Each of his film’s are about stubborn and conflicted men left behind by the winds of change, forced to occupy a place on the fringes of society. They have stressful jobs, like in 2009’s The Messenger and 2011’s Rampart, or no job at all, as is the case with drifter George Hammond (Richard Gere) in Time Out of Mind.

With his latest drama, Moverman wants to place the viewer firmly in George’s shoes. Long, roving zooms reminiscent of Robert Altman expand and condense the frame. New York City provides a relentless chatter of voices and machines that fade in and out. This intricately layered sound design becomes a deafening reminder of the world’s uncaring and fast pace.

Moverman’s idiosyncratic camera placement reminds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s languishing visual approach. It gives the film an eerily calm demeanor despite being about the moment-to-moment process of survival.

Time Out of Mind follows George through his daily routines of trying to find shelter, food, and stability. These early sequences contain lengthy gaps depending on George’s level of intoxication. Sometimes he visits his estranged daughter (Jena Malone), who works as a bartender.

George’s backstory is left ambiguous until the final act. There’s no grand tragedy behind his homelessness, and Moverman doesn’t try to make him into a political statement. Gere’s measured performance fits this approach.

What we do see is a broken system. When George first walks into a homeless shelter it looks like he’s entering a prison, something that’s confirmed later by Dixon (the great Ben Vereen), a veteran of the system who speaks the film’s greatest truth bomb: “It’s designed to be shit.”

Such failed institutions only succeed at highlighting the wasted talent, opportunities, and people who are residing in plain sight. This is just one of the film’s chicken/egg dilemmas, and Moverman and Gere provide no clear answers. In the end, George illuminates the contradictory nature of his world best after Dixon disappears as suddenly as he arrived: “People are just gone sometimes. It doesn’t make sense.”

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