Homelessness is depressing, and Time out of Mind brings the point home big time. But a major flaw in the film is that it omits any back-story about George (Gere) that would make him a sympathetic figure. He appears fully capable of getting a job, but we never see him apply for one. And what happened to him? He appears as someone who had at one time been very successful. Why does his daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) hate him so much she cannot stand to talk to him? Without any kind of account for this man’s situation, we have nothing to go on. Unfortunately, this film seems to validate politically conservative arguments about social services, that is, that people who apply for social services are able-bodied and simply don’t want to work. (I am sure writer/director Oren Moverman did not have this in mind nor does he likely have this point of view.)
Without any kind of background or human element, I can’t figure out why this film was made. Yes, homelessness is a tragic situation, but without any humanity behind it, it is meaningless. Are we to relate to and empathize with George simply because he is homeless? That’s impossible for me unless I know of the extenuating circumstances. George seems quite able to work at some kind of job, and so long as that is possible, he should be directing his efforts in that direction. Instead, he simply applies for benefits for which he does not seem to be eligible. Sure, there are many, many homeless people who are limited in cognitive and physical functions, but George seems quite intact. If he is not, then the movie fails in showing his limitations. He looks neither physically or mentally compromised.
Writer/director Oren Moverman, known for making comments about American life in Rampart and The Messenger, may simply have been interested in showing what homelessness is like to those of us having no experience with it, and the ways in which we block out even the awareness of homelessness by literally averting our eyes when its manifestations are in our visual field. We see George go through repeated indignities from the beginning when he is found asleep in someone else’s bathtub and is kicked out of the apartment building with dispatch by the building manager (Steve Buscemi in a cameo), to being rudely treated at benefits offices and homeless shelters. Although he is complimented as being “handsome” by a social worker (another cameo by Kyra Sedgewick), he is harassed by a nosy fellow shelter seeker (Ben Vereen).
Gere’s performance is flawless throughout, which is noteworthy, because he is usually in roles about attractive, wealthy men. But he plays this one straight, never showing any signs linking him to, say, Robert Miller in Arbitrage. Since the character is so taciturn, the role also required a great deal of nonverbal expression.
Richard Gere as a homeless man; who would have thought?