May 12, 2017 at 11:16 p.m.
NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (2017)
Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Harris Yulin, Josh Charles, Yehuda Almagor, Neta Riskin, Dov Glickman, Tali Sharon
Directed by Joseph Cedar
Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar follows up the 2012 Oscar nominated Foreign film, Footnote, with his English language debut feature. Richard Gere plays the ultimate middleman or “macher” while abandoning his usual dapper looks for a nerdy makeover. Cringe-worthy at times but always spellbinding, Gere continues his hot streak with another superlative performance that’s backed up by a great cast in unconventional roles.
Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) continuously roams the streets of New York looking for his next target. He’s a mover and shaker who thrives on connecting people. If your kid needs to get into Harvard but his grades aren’t good enough or you need to raise 14-million so your synagogue won’t be forced to relocate, you call Norman. He’s not rich, for all we know he could be homeless, but he can find people that can help with your dilemma and he does it without charging a cent or asking for something in return. People like Norman (who is referred to as a generous Jew) seek prestige and status by associating themselves with the powerful. It makes sense. The company you keep can give off the impression that you run with the same pack.
As luck would have it, Norman hits the jackpot when he connects with Micha Eshel (a very good Lior Ashkenazi), an Israeli politician who is in town for a summit. He stalks Eshel like a predator observing its prey until they “accidently” meet at a high-end clothing store. A kind gesture by Norman turns into an investment when Eshel becomes the Prime Minister three years later. He returns to the United States for a meeting with the President and following a ceremony celebrating his visit Eshel publicly acknowledges Norman as a dear old friend. Suddenly everyone wants to work with Norman but all the notoriety comes with a price.
The supporting cast features a great set of actors in atypical roles. Steve Buscemi plays a rabbi, Charlotte Gainsbourg a government official, and Michael Sheen as Norman’s lawyer nephew. All of them experience awkward moments with Norman as Cedar keeps the audience engrossed and a bit uncomfortable. We like Norman and want him to succeed but he’s comparable to that one family member that doesn’t realize he’s embarrassing himself and those around him.
Gere delivers a knockout performance as the ambitious fixer, a role that is opposite his excellent portrayal of a politician in “The Dinner” which is also currently in theaters. Lior Ashkenazi as the Israeli Prime Minister emanates the charm usually equated with Gere in a performance that is touching and on par with Gere. The two are a dynamite combination.
(3 ½ stars)
Now playing in Houston at the River Oaks Theater and Cinemark at Market Street. Also opening in Austin this week at the Violet Crown Cinema.
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