“Time Out of Mind,” a meditation about homelessness in New York City, is both powerful and tedious: It’s memorable in the sense that it has an unsettling and disorienting and even educational effect, yet as a work of drama, it’s often an exercise in drudgery.
Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that life on the streets, when not dangerous, is dreadfully dull; walking from bench to bench or sleeping on the sidewalk is not the stuff of Shakespearean conflict.
For this inconvenient reason, homelessness as a topic has always vexed Hollywood, and independent director Oren Moverman faces the same issues. To deal with this challenge, Moverman mostly dispenses with plot and character development and goes for realism — and the tedium that comes with it.
Richard Gere (solid, not a trace of vanity in his performance) plays George, who drinks incessantly and is steadily losing his mental faculties. This is a man who can’t help himself, to say the least. We first meet him being awakened from a bathtub in a dilapidated building that will no doubt be gentrified.
George spends most of his time drifting from place to place — sometimes searching for his estranged daughter — and we don’t learn a lot about him. But we can feel his confusion amid the cacophony of city clamor and his hopelessness among the hurried residents who ignore his very existence.
We appreciate the film’s authentic feel — there is no phony story of redemption here — but it doesn’t take long for us to get bored, even when we’re sympathetic.
George eventually finds his way to a shelter, which makes the digs from “Orange Is the New Black” look spiffy. There, George encounters the prisonlike, dehumanizing surroundings that make the unforgiving streets seem more inviting.
Every now and then, an interesting character pops up: Kyra Sedgwick, almost unrecognizable, is quite good as a homeless woman who collects aluminum cans. But these moments are as fleeting as George’s grip on reality.
Years from now, “Time Out of Mind” may serve as a solid time capsule film on our intractable homelessness problem. Maybe then, its lack of dramatic heft won’t matter quite as much.