Ejected from the tenement building in which he has been squatting, itinerant George (Richard Gere) finds himself on the streets, struggling to find food and shelter, and hoping for a reconciliation with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone).
In the early 1960s, Jeremy Sandford spent two weeks on the streets exploring the plight of London’s homeless, resulting in the ground-breaking television plays Cathy Come Home and Edna the Inebriate Woman. Half a century on, films in which mega-rich superstars ‘ugly up’ to play vagrants and bums look suspiciously like vanity projects, especially when, as in this case, said actor is also producing. Thankfully, producer-star Richard Gere’s turn as an itinerant adrift in New York feels like the genuine article, sensitively written and imaginatively directed by Oren Moverman, Oscar-nominated writer-director of The Messenger.
Given the subject matter, it’s perhaps forgivable that the narrative – if a string of vignettes loosely held together by Gere’s persuasive performance can be described as such – meanders a bit, as George ambles from street corner to shelter in his daily search for food and warmth, with a side quest involving his estranged daughter, Maggie (Malone). Moverman makes an intriguing artistic choice to shoot Gere through a series of obstructions – windows, grills, etc. – through which he observes this lost soul’s place in a teeming metropolis; but what it also does is distance us from George, who never fully coalesces as a character, much less a sympathetic figure. More troublingly, Moverman’s view of New York’s homeless seems sanitised, full of helpful social workers and socialised structures doing their best to help George, who is painted as his own worst enemy and, despite the pain in his past, the architect of his own predicament.
Gere gives a nicely understated performance in Moverman’s well-intentioned but ultimately insipid film, adding little to the subgenre besides Gere’s careworn face and carelessly razored hair. ★★★