Richard Gere produces as well as stars in Time Out of Mind (2014) as George, a homeless and quite possibly mentally ill man in Manhattan getting lost in the bureaucratic maze of social services while bouncing from shelter to shelter in an effort to find some stability. Clearly the subject matter compels him—Gere’s activism is well known—but this isn’t your usual social drama of our culture’s down and out. There are no speeches or tirades, no indictment of the system, no villains or heroes. It’s just people getting along. Or not. The stakes are simple and basic, yet George’s world hangs in the balance over them. He needs a social security card to get basic social services, but he has no identification. He says his wallet was stolen, which may be true. It also may have happened years ago.
Oren Moverman, who scripts and directs the film, shoots on the streets, in the crowded shelters, and in the impersonal waiting rooms and offices of overwhelmed yet supportive social workers trying to guide him through the system (to Moverman’s credit no one is demonized; the failure is the system, not the working class folks who work in social services). It puts his ordeal in the real world, neither a brutal slum nor a city of affluence and arrogance, and Gere inhabits the frame as if squatting in someone else’s world, lost in the crowds and conversations that fill the scenes. He’s rarely alone but he’s always outside of things, ducking attention unless he needs something, silently listening to the meandering, colorful monologues of fellow shelter tenant Dixon (Ben Vereen), who says he was once a professional jazz musician and may well have been. His patter feels like a jazz solo. And George has a daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), who gets by tending bar and wants nothing to do with him. His interest in her clearly is more than money. His expression becomes haunted when he first sees her on the street and follows her from a distance. There’s a need to connect in his actions, and a fear of it as well.
Moverman and Gere create an atmosphere unlike any other film I’ve seen in recent memory. It puts us in middle of things yet outside of it all at once, a state of mind and a feeling of disenfranchisement as much as a physical world. And Gere gives the performance of his career—and one of the most nuanced performances of the year—as George, who is reluctant to announce his presence, as if he’s afraid he’s no longer welcome. He certainly doesn’t believe he’s welcome, and that’s the saddest thing about Time Out of Mind. All he wants is a meal, a bed, a place to get warm in the chill of New York’s winter, and he’s afraid that he doesn’t deserve it. Gere makes you feel that utter lack of self-esteem, and it’s devastating.