Richard Gere is hardly the first Hollywood glamorpuss to turn that glamor off for a role. But in the compelling and compassionate “Time Out of Mind” – now playing at Belcourt Theatre through Sunday – he goes to a place few stars manage at any point in their careers; it’s a very raw and real performance that’s part of making us feel we’re watching a documentary and not a fictionalized account of a sadly all-too-real issue.
When we first see Gere as George he’s in the bathtub of an abandoned apartment and the building manager (Steve Buscemi) is waking him to tell him he needs to leave. George tells him this is the apartment of his friend Shelia and that she’s allowing him to stay there; the manager responds that he doesn’t know who that is and that George has to get out.
The behemoth that is New York City can be very harsh to someone who’s adrift, and we see the large and small injustices and indignities that make homeless days and nights a desperate search for any sense of stability and security. We also get a glimpse at the life George once led as he follows his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) around town. After going into a shelter for homeless men he strikes up a friendship with a man named Dixon who claims he was a jazz musician (Ben Vereen); like so much in this story that relationship isn’t part of some simple solution to George’s situation but rather a piece of the poignant portrait of a life lost in the sounds and streets of a very unforgiving urban center.
Gere and his fellow actors (including Kyra Sedgwick as a homeless woman named Karen) are utterly convincing in appropriately unadorned performances under the observant eye of Oscar-nominated writer-director Oren Moverman (“Rampart,” “The Messenger“). Observation is indeed the coin of this movie’s realm, for in the long-view 300 to 900 millimeter lense POVs regularly provided by cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (who collaborated with Moverman on “Rampart” and “The Messenger”) we see George and the asphalt jungle he’s in through windows, doors and other unobtrusive framing devices. And last but certainly not least there’s incredible sound editing and mixing (credit a large team that includes Supervising Sound Editor Pam DeMetruis-Thomas, Sound Effects Editor James David Redding III and Sound Mixer Felix Andrew) that infuses many moments of “Time Out of Mind” with relentless waves of NYC noise that provide no rest for George and others that are truly weary.
Homelessness is a scourge on the souls living it each day and on society as a whole; it’s something we’re all aware of but in many cases try our best to ignore – as Gere has said, “The script that we began with was actually written 25 years ago, yet surprisingly little has changed since then. The underlying realities for homeless people are the same.” “Time Out of Mind” is just a film, but one that offers a moving and painfully realistic portrait with no easy answers for George or all of us watching it. The filmmakers obviously have empathy and compassion for their characters and the subject at the center of this movie; those virtues should be ours when consider what we can do to help others.
“Time Out of Mind” continues in Nashville through Sunday (Sept. 27) exclusively at the Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave. (click here for showtimes and to buy tickets). After Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. screening there will be a discussion with Rachel Hester, executive director of Room in the Inn. This film is not rated and runs 120 minutes.