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Richard Gere brilliant in film about homelessness

In the midst of the raging debate in Hamilton about homeless encampments we stumbled across the much praised but little watched 2014 film—Time Out of Mind (Amazon Prime) starring Richard Gere. Gere seems to have embraced the fact that he is a septuagenarian with several of his recent films, where he portrays aging men dealing with loss of status (Norman: the Moderate rise and fall of a New York Fixer), guilt (The Benefactor) and , Time out of Mind.

The film opens with George Hammond (Gere) being thrown out of an abandoned New York City apartment where he is found sleeping in the bathtub by a painting crew led by Steve Buscemi. Buscemi is one of several stars who appear briefly in the film. It is clear that George is on the verge of some form of dementia. He has an unexplained recent scar on his forehead and is confused.

On the street we get a sense that George was once successful. His clothing, while shabby looks like it was once expensive. We now are taken through a series of scenes where  George is wandering the streets of the city, trying to sleep on benches. On two occasions he pawns his coat to get money to buy beer, and then goes to a church drop in centre to get a free coat donated for the poor. Much of the film has to do with his attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter who has given up on him.

With winter coming on, George reluctantly seeks a shelter bed. It is here that we get a glimpse of why people refuse to go to shelters. It’s not that the people running the shelters are so bad, we see glimpses of kindness and sympathy as George stumbles his way through the system; it’s just that the shelters themselves have a sense of danger, with thievery and violence abounding. It is in the shelter that George meets the mentally unstable but kindly former Jazz musician Dixon played brilliantly by Ben Vereen (who was a frequent performer at Hamilton Place in the 1980’s).  

The film is not easy to watch. There is no resolution of George’s problems, save a hint at the end that maybe is daughter might give him another chance. It is not an expose of the shelter system, more an accurate portrayal of a system that tries to deal with the twin scourges of mental illness and homelessness, and ultimately is not able to.

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