Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Directed by Joseph Cedar. US. 2016. R. 118 minutes. Sony. Digital.
Fri., May 19, 2017 thru Thu., June 1, 2017
“Almost sneakily, Richard Gere has made a career out of playing hustlers—from his shifty, seductive glances in Days of Heaven and American Gigolo, to his more recent triumphs like The Hoax (about real-life con artist Clifford Irving) and the hedge-fund drama Arbitrage. So before you blanch at the idea of this underrated Hollywood icon playing a Jewish NYC schemer desperate to parlay his contacts into a big score, know that this role is exactly in Gere’s wheelhouse. And he’s never been better. Norman’s title character, constantly on the make in his tan overcoat and iPhone earbuds, is what you might call a macher, or at least that’s what he’s trying to be: a big deal. His cryptic business card (ever at the ready) reads “Oppenheimer Strategies” and the sole proprietor is always asking what people need. To Gere’s credit, you quickly begin to sense that Norman is the person who needs the most.
Norman’s script, by the shrewd Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar (also of the wonderful Talmudic psychodrama Footnote—yes, such things exist), has the kind of intricate structure that impresses you the more you think about it. After Norman lures a minor Israeli deputy minister (Footnote’s Lior Ashkenazi, beautifully playing the mark) into his confidence with a fancy pair of shoes, the movie pauses to settle its accounts: one politician impressed, one ritzy dinner infiltrated, one ignominious rejection from the inner circle. Then it skips ahead three years. The shoe-loving deputy has somehow become his country’s prime minister and Norman can almost taste his own arrival to the major leagues. But with global peace negotiations in the balance, scandal rains down on both men, while Norman’s rabbi (a brilliantly transformed Steve Buscemi) expects his congregant to deliver on a promised windfall.
Built out of complex performances etched with economic flair, unobtrusive camera work and the faintest tinge of comic whimsy (the film’s score, by Japanese trumpeter Jun Miyake, is marvelous), Norman is an intimate film that simply has no drawbacks. Even when it resorts to a smidge of zany telephonic montage and split-screen conversation, you smile at Cedar’s formal ambition, which pays rich dividends as he pushes his simple setup to the brink of disaster. The movie ends on a note of metaphysical wittiness (how often do you see that?) suggesting that, for all their pot-stirring, we may need our Normans more than we know. Gere, his Cheshire-cat smile only improving with age, has found his most essential role, one that pushes his smooth operator’s desperation to the limit.” (Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York)
Access reviews at Metacritic.com.