Oren Moverman’s latest film stars Richard Gere as a homeless man at the end of his tether.
How conditioned are we to ignore the homeless? According to Oren Moverman, so much so that we would even walk right by someone as famous as Richard Gere if he were standing in front of us asking for money.
Moverman isn’t just hypothesizing. During production of his new film, Time out of Mind, which opens in area theaters Oct. 2, when Gere was in character as George, the film’s protagonist, panhandling for hours at a time in New York City’s Astor Place, not one person recognized him — or gave him any money.
Sporting wiry stubble, hair that looks like it lost a bet with a Flowbee and a mishmash of clothes he picks up from a local church — only to later take the coat and sell it to a vintage clothing shop in an inspired bit of survival capitalism — passersby can be forgiven for not acknowledging one of the most recognizable faces onscreen for the past 35 years.
Moverman, who wrote the screenplay based on a script Gere purchased 15 years ago and has been trying to make ever since, even gives the actor’s legendary looks a nod and a wink onscreen. At one point, George, desperate for a warm place to spend the night, begins tentatively flirting with a kind but wary nurse in a hospital.
“Women have always been incredibly kind to me,” he says. In another scene, a fellow homeless person, played by an almost-unrecognizable Kyra Sedgwick, tells him he is handsome. Slightly baffled, as if he can’t understand the compliment, he responds, “I’m not handsome; maybe I was.”
For Moverman, this low-key, mundanely devastating study of a man lost and losing is in some ways the culmination of the portraits of broken and breaking men he has brought to life beginning with his directorial debut, 2009’s The Messenger. That film, about soldiers tasked with delivering death notifications to loved ones, and the 2011 follow-up, Rampart, about a Los Angeles policeman whose life is falling apart before his eyes, also focus on what happens when men try — and fail — to successfully navigate the changes in their world.
“I look at these three films as sort of a trilogy,” he explained during a recent roundtable interview with him and Gere. “In my mind, they have social relevance. I think that if the solution to all that ails society is women, then I’ll make the movies about the problem, which is men. If I go into the psychology of it, it is probably something very personal and deep.”
His self-deprecating interview style aside, the native of Givatayim, located near Tel Aviv, has crafted a film about homelessness unlike any wide-release feature on the subject ever made. There are no standard tropes — George isn’t a regular guy who had a run of bad luck and just wound up on the street, and he isn’t the wild-eyed transient holding screaming matches with invisible combatants. In fact, his backstory is given out sparingly — and never convincingly — and only by himself, in a less than convincing fashion as a way of removing attention from himself.
Moverman’s direction accentuates George’s desire to fade into the background. He is frequently framed off-center, as if he is trying to get to the periphery. Additionally, Moverman’s director of photography, Bobby Bukowski, does a masterful job of shooting George from behind windows, through reflections, partially obstructed and from great distances. The effect is one of fragmentation, dissociation and isolation — all indicative of what he is enduring throughout the film.
Moverman’s use of sound, as designed by Felix Andrew, is also done to great effect. There is no soundtrack save that of New York itself, an undulating cacophony that overwhelms conversations and coherence for those like George, who have lost the ability to focus around the ambient aural environment. “The noise — it is the soundtrack of insanity,” Moverman acknowledges. “We learn to filter it out, but if you’re someone like George, who doesn’t have that ability, you experience it in a very different way.”
Taken together, the unflinching nature of the film gives it a resonance not unlike what could be found in a documentary — not a surprise, considering that Moverman worked with legendary documentarian Albert Maysles when he moved to New York in 1988 to study cinema at Brooklyn College.
Moverman says that he will continue to train his gaze on damaged men for as long as they remain interesting to him and his audiences. “Maybe I’m interested in that because of the life I’ve led, my military experience, my life as an Israeli, growing up in a male-dominated society — it’s just something that attracts me.”
He also plans to continue working with the homeless offscreen as well. In addition to a well-publicized visit to Philadelphia two weeks ago that included a fundraising dinner with Project HOME’s Sister Mary Scullion, Moverman says that making the film has forever changed not just how he looks at the homeless problem, but how he responds to it.
“It really opened up my eyes. We are living our lives and there are so many people we don’t even notice. For us, this is just the first step in opening up a conversation that might create change.”