Movie review: Richard Gere says a lot but keeps it all close to the vest in ‘Norman’
Quick. Can you name one Richard Gere movie other than “Pretty Woman,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” or “Chicago?” What? You forgot he was in “Chicago?” And that he won a Golden Globe for it?
Once a leading man among leading men, Gere, now 67, has had major roles, since his breakthrough 40 years ago in “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” (forgot that one too, didn’t you) in more than 50 feature films. And some of those roles have been pretty strange. There was the full-of-himself hood in “Breathless,” the bipolar patient in “Mr. Jones,” the addled doctor in “Dr. T & the Women,” Clifford Irving in “The Hoax,” a version of Bob Dylan in “I’m not There,” and most recently, a homeless man in “Time out of Mind.” There were plenty of conventional parts, too, but now that your memory has been refreshed, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he goes for another decidedly not normal character in “Norman.”
But Norman Oppenheimer isn’t someone who can be described in a couple of words, like all of the above Gere roles. Even if the film had kept its original title -- “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” -- you’d still be hard-pressed to pigeonhole exactly who he is and what he does.
He’s most certainly some sort of schemer, a man who makes his way through New York City trying to set up deals, attempting to put together people who need favors with people who are willing to do favors. It seems that, at the film’s start, he’s been doing this for a long time, he’s developed a bad reputation, and folks who know him tend to cross to the other side of the street when they see him coming.
But he never, even for a moment, comes across as a bad guy. He’s just someone who wants to help others, and of course it wouldn’t hurt to be acknowledged for his services. Still, the questions nag: Just what is it that he does? Why does his business card say Oppenheimer Strategies? Does he have an office? A home? Is it out of desperation that he visits a synagogue, purportedly to say hello to his friend the Rabbi (Steve Buscemi), but when no one is looking, he sneaks into the kitchen and gobbles down a load of herring and crackers?
Speaking of synagogues, what’s the deal with him trying to put together Micha Eshel, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Trade (Lior Ashkenazi, in a terrific performance) with some rich man named Arthur Taub (Josh Charles), even though he doesn’t know either man. One more question. Why, after meeting and schmoozing up that Israeli politician in New York, does he then convince him to try on a pair of very expensive shoes, then gives the shoes to him as a gift? Just one more: Where the heck does he get the money for $1,000 dollar shoes?
Writer-director Joseph Cedar isn’t about to hand over any easy answers. In fact, he makes things tougher to understand by sometimes showing two major characters talking intensely to each other, but doesn’t let us hear what they’re saying.
Suddenly, it’s 3 years later. The low-level Israeli politician has gone back home and has become the Israeli Prime Minister. He and Norman will meet again, and he will remember that expensive gift, and there will be smiles. But there’s also a hint of political corruption, with Norman possibly, and innocently, being involved. Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a woman he meets and chats up on a train, turns out to be an Israeli investigator who’s working on the case.
This is an oddball movie from beginning to end, and it’s wonderfully grounded by Gere, who gives Norman a friendly, impish quality (that’s nicely complemented by Jun Miyake’s playful score), and at one point shows off his Woody Allen side, especially when he gets caught up in excited conversations (the ones we can hear). His incessant dealing and schmoozing and fast talking, accompanied by his constant need to help people, whether they want it or not, makes Norman an offbeat, original character, and “Norman” an offbeat, original film.
-- Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
Written and directed by Joseph Cedar
With Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Steve Buscemi