Everyone involved in this small miracle of cinema is on the high wire. Richard Gere, deprived of his movie-star looks, plays a homeless man adrift in New York. Oren Moverman, the gifted Israeli-American writer-director of The Messenger and Rampart, deprives himself of the tearjerking backstory that keeps butts in seats. Time Out of Mind recalls the neorealism of, say, De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. It’s stripped bare of Hollywood trappings. Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski shot Gere with hidden cameras, watching the world ignore him.
And yet you can’t turn away, so ardent and artful is the film at hand. As the sights and sounds of the big city overwhelm this perpetual stranger, who can barely gather the strength and the words to register for a shelter or a session at Bellevue, his life becomes briefly ours. No self-pity. No sermons. A few facts emerge — a family tragedy, a lost job, an estranged daughter (Jena Malone) — mostly gleaned from interactions with another homeless man, played with grit and grace by Ben Vereen.
But for Gere’s character — his senses bombarded with aural chaos, his memory dimmed by lapses he refers to as “losing time” — there is only alone. Gere, who has shockingly never been nominated for an Oscar, gives the performance of his career, intuitive and indelible. Maybe it’s naive to think a movie like this can heighten our awareness, even change things. So what. Godspeed.