Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
Oren Moverman's "Time out of Mind," about a homeless and probably mentally ill man trying to survive in New York City, does not feel like a typical American independent drama made in this century. It's set in harsh reality and shot with a simplicity and directness that demands the viewer's full attention. And it is built around a lead performance by Richard Gere that immediately draws the viewer in through familiarity (or star power) but then increasingly demands that we engage with the character on his own terms, and forget whatever we think we know about the actor.
The movie starts with Gere's character, George, being surprised while squatting in an apartment. The building manager (Steve Buscemi, one of many name actors who play one or two scenes in the film) reluctantly tells him that he can't stay there anymore. George says he's waiting on "her." In time we understand that he's talking about his daughter Maggie (Jena Malone), who kicked George out, again for unspecified reasons, though probably for drinking (in one brief sequence where George comes into a bit of cash, he spends it on a six pack and drinks it all at once). Eventually he ends up at a bleak, racially tense homeless shelter where he's befriended by Dixon (Ben Vereen), a former jazz man who has a dozen synonyms for every noun and speaks in the relentlessly upbeat cadences of a scam artist even when he's being entirely sincere. He has more experiences, and while we feel sure that the movie is edging toward a destination, we can tell by the tone and style that it's not going to be a typically upbeat one, with lessons learned and problems solved.
"Time out of Mind" is an observational film, mainly concerned with behavior rather than story. You hear the characters' names in passing, and if you're not paying attention you might not hear them again. This is not the kind of movie where a character walks into a room and says how glad they are to see their friend George whom they haven't spoken to since that chance encounter in Queens almost seven years ago. Very rarely do the characters come right out and tell you exactly who they are or what happened to them or what they would like to happen to them.
Instead, Moverman puts us in the position of an eavesdropper or secret spectator throughout. The only music is provided by the PA systems of restaurants, bars and coffee shops, the speaker systems of passing cars, and occasional snatches of street music, such as the saxophone player who is heard (but not seen) in a brief scene set on a subway car. Watching "Time Out of Mind" is not like the ordinary experience of watching a movie; it's more like being in a public place and deciding to allow the scene around you to become a drama.