Director Oren Moverman has established quite a filmic repertoire that most others would kill for. He’s also proven to be a prolific writer with films like I’m Not There (2007), Married Life (2009) and this year’s Love & Mercy, the brilliantly unconventional Brian Wilson biopic (co-written with Michael A. Lerner).
With Time out of Mind, his third directorial effort after 2009’s The Messenger and 2011’s Rampart, he continues to expand upon an already impressive filmography with this minimalist film following a homeless man, George (Richard Gere), as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone).
We see a shot of New York City from a distance, the camera languidly dollies out and a window frame comes into view. The sound of a ticking clock, ominous, plays in the background as the camera pans to reveal an empty apartment.
This segment is Moverman’s statement of methodology; he shows us the locale, New York City, but what he’s really establishing is the subsequent aural experience and visual languidly that defines the rest of the film. Moverman’s camera proposes a filmic thesis, allowing it to speak of the world it’s capturing and arresting a cacophony of bustling life and metropolis.
This is the type of film that requires viewers to remain focused to fully appreciate what it’s trying to say. It’s not just about George, but those lives adjacent to his own and the lives surviving on the very fringes of a cruel metropolis. The sounds of the city and its people inundating our senses with the mundane make the effect almost Joycean in nature and a testament to the city itself.
This is reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron’s style, most specifically 2001’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, in which the director shies away from the main action to show us seemingly random slices of life surrounding them. By keeping the camera off George and instead focusing on the periphery of his life make this film, in its own way, not unlike Ulysses.
As aimless and tedious as this film can seem there are some subtle dramatic points that serve its narrative. George’s tumultuous life comes into focus after we learn he stalks his daughter, watching her leave an apartment with an African American lover as she heads to the bar where she works as a bartender. It’s clear she wants nothing to do with George, and now after losing everything she holds little compassion for her troubled and lonely father.
As George traverses New York City he happens upon a homeless shelter where he soon meets the eccentric Dixon, played brilliantly by Ben Vereen. A half paranoid curmudgeon and half impassioned optimist, the man talks nonstop, with George listening silently for the most part – unless he’s asking Dixon to shut up.
Moverman has the intelligence to use film in the way it’s supposed to be used, crafting a film with style and pathos to creates something unique. It’s a rare experience when a film demands viewers to watch with full attention and rarer still when an American film appears unafraid to experiment. By doing so he’s accomplished something most directors have forgotten to do, and that’s allowing the camera to speak and tell its own story.
Time out of Mind is difficult to recommend to just anyone; it requires patience, above all, and a dedication to sit through a virtually plotless narrative. Here is a film not about furthering its narrative but the overall experience, becoming a rare and cerebral cinematic experience in the process. Richard Gere focuses what might have been yet another Hollywood vanity project, helping remind us good, complex, and profound films can still co-exist among the blockbusters. One of the year’s best.