Time Out of Mind (2015)


NYC is a frightening place, especially the first time you spend there, but I’ve rarely seen anything to equal Richard Gere urinating in the street. He exults in the disgust of a man castigating him for it, calling him an animal. Oren Moverman’s commitment to the real meant that cameras were hidden as George (Gere) went around, camouflaged in beanies and anoraks, apparently aimlessly, drifting, while the denizens do what they do to the homeless in a terrifying cacophonous din that has for the viewer the dramatic affect of tinnitus. We see George going from homeless shelter to subway, hungry, begging, experiencing the death-defying bureaucracy along the way that would drive a fine mind crazy with frustration:  he has no ID, no paperwork to get more paperwork that would get him a bed, food vouchers, comfort. Sometimes he follows a young woman (Jena Malone) who it transpires is his daughter, who disowns him. At eighty minutes into the running time he finally tells his newfound Bellevue Hospital friend (Ben Vereen) the cataclysmic series of unfortunate events that has led to him having a life on the streets. A chance reunion with trolley lady Sheila (Kyra Sedgwick) enlightens us as to how he is thrown out of an apartment at the story’s opening. Gere is very moving.  He is frequently on the edge, crying, upset and he is very touching in the role, inasmuch as the writing allows, but his character is somewhat enigmatic. There is a resolution, of a sort, in keeping with the demands of the medium. Even Ken Loach has to permit that and this is a film that is redolent of that approach. But this is far from an easy watch. Moverman and Jeffrey Caine wrote the screenplay, developed from Caine’s story. Maybe we can all have more understanding of street people as a result.


Ironweed (1987)

Ironweed poster.jpg

Quite why the homeless opt out is something that forms the bedrock of this film’s narrative, adapted by the author William Kennedy from his novel. Star performances elevate the downbeat Depression-era material, with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep giving real depth to these sad street people. He is back in his hometown at Halloween, for the first time in decades. She is his occasional girlfriend, a former musician who has long abandoned her musical dreams – her hallucinatory performance of He’s My Pal is a highlight. It’s nice to see Carroll Baker, turning up as Jack’s ex-wife in a radiant performance. The cruelty of society, the beatings administered by ex-servicemen and the awful tragedies that have caused decent people to become hobos, are problems that are relentless and persistent and while the poetry of Kennedy mitigates the depression, the outcomes don’t. Babenco had previously made The Kiss of the Spider Woman but this was his first film proper for an English-speaking audience and he followed up with At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In other words, he is a serious filmmaker of serious films. And Nicholson is indelible as the sad Francis Phelan.