There are many sides to the persona known to the world as Richard Gere. There’s the handsome, charming guy we know from his romantic comedies – probably the side most known to the world. The more complex character actor who we witness in select films (Days of Heaven, I’m Not There, Arbitrage). That’s kind of it… honestly. I like Richard Gere, he seems like a nice enough guy and I genuinely enjoy watching him on screen even though he’s been in some really (REALLY!!!) shit movies. But for whatever reason(s) he had for wanting to make this film, he showed a side to him which I can’t remember ever seeing before.
Oren Moverman is perhaps best known as a writer but his two previously directed movies, 2009’s The Messenger and 2011’s Rampart, showed that he was a capable director who could draw really good performances out of his actors. This film is quite a departure from those films both in terms of style and tone. Where the former was a naturalistic look into the lives of casualty notification officers and the latter was probably the most brutal dirty cop movie to come out since Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant back in the 90s – this film focuses on the life of a homeless man – George played by Gere.
Stylistically, Moverman and his DP Bobby Bukowski really step back, taking on a more observational role here. They often shoot Gere through windows and fences, among other obstructive objects – which creates this separation between us as the audience and his character. I found it really interesting how they used zooms as well. I’ve always been told by teachers not to use zooms because they look amateurish in nature, but there’s something about the way they’re used here that I found really appealing. They kind of remind me of films from the 60s and 70s in that they have kind of a rough and unplanned kind of quality to them.
I’ve heard in a few interviews done with Moverman and Gere that they specifically referenced Bresson’s Pickpocket as an influence on their approach to the film – and to an extent I can see that. There’s a quietness throughout the film, both in general as well as to Gere’s performance. There’s also a lack of information given about the film, at the start you kind of just find yourself trying to get your bearings as George himself is. Whatever info is given is delivered in small bits throughout the film in kind of offhanded comments rather than long expositional ramblings.
The reason why in my opening paragraph I said that this is a new side, or at least a side that hasn’t been shown to the world that often, to Gere is that what he does here is both unexpected and yet completely believable. I know it’s probably hard to believe when I say that (considering he looks like Richard Gere) and I’m sure more than one person who reads this will assume I’m just indulging in hyperbole, but he is really good here. The physical transformation isn’t as big as the emotional one I see in his George.
Perhaps the closest thing we have to a through line in here is George’s relationship with his daughter Maggie (Jena Malone). She pops up for a few scenes in the film but it’s her presence that appears to loom over George for the majority of the film’s running time. Even as he tries to re-connect with her, it’s more than apparent that she wants to simply be rid of him from her life. It’s this aspect to the film that I do find the weakest because it is a little predictable (though it is perhaps the hook that will allow most audience members a way into the film). But Malone definitely sells her role in her short screen time, making what could be a stereotypical character one that has broiling anger and pity for the man she has to call her father.
The way he plays George is not simply as someone who’s homeless or down-and-out or a drunk – although all of those things are certainly part of the character, he imbues George with a richness that I haven’t seen in his performances in a long time. It’s a very unglamerous performance and one that comes across as very honest and unshowy to me. Throughout the entire film, it feels like George is closer to collapsing on the street due to sleep deprivation than because of his fondness for the drink. I think it’s also very admirable that Gere never portray’s George as a sort of martyr or something like that, he’s kind of a dick to those around him. He’s a man who is for the better part of the film, in denial of his own situation. He’s in a perpetual state of delirium.
The ramshackled state of George is also personified in the structure of the film itself. There essentially is no real plot to speak of for the majority of the film’s running time. It’s episodic in nature, with George essentially moving from one place to the next in search of one thing or another (whether it be a place to sleep or to get something to eat). This is the biggest complaint I’ve read people have with the film.
Although I felt like the ending was kind of predictable, the path leading towards it I found quite compelling mainly due to Gere’s portrayal. He is incredibly watchable and it’s great to see him go so far outside of his comfort zone here. I know several people who were not fans of this but I found it very engaging and directed confidently. I seriously doubt Gere will get an awards push for this one though he is deserving of it for what he does here.