Continuing an impressive run of performances in indie films, Richard Gere is simply terrific in Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer, the original title when it premiered at last fall’s Telluride and Toronto film festivals, but now just shortened to Norman. But don’t think this role was tailor-made for the star or that he was the natural choice.
It’s an offbeat part and he throws himself completely into it as a small time operator, the kind of guy who constantly networks and tries to make connections for people. Actually, if you saw Norman on the street you would probably run the other direction, even though in his own modest way he is not someone to be wary of. In fact, as the film goes along we come to have great sympathy for him. Everybody probably knows a Norman, and as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Gere brings a great deal of believability to the role and completely loses whatever star persona we think he has.
Writer/director Joseph Cedar (Footnote) based this character on what was known as the “court Jew”, a person enveloped in thousands of years of historical literature, but has thoroughly contemporized it in the first English- language film for the Israeli helmer. Norman Oppenheimer has a lot of schemes and dreams but nothing ever seems to come to fruition, but then one day his luck seemingly changes, or at least begins to change due to an unsolicited act of kindness when he befriends an Israeli politician named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) visiting New York but also at a very low point in his career. Norman insists on buying him a very expensive pair of shoes and asks nothing in return. This pays off three years later when Norman meets Eshel again, except this time he is the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel, and much to the chagrin of his associates, he remembers Norman with fondness and gives him access to his circle. Of course nothing is as good as it seems and scandal intervenes, affecting Norman and some deals he made based on his friendship with Eshel.
Many other encounters and characters are weaved in and out of this basic plot and Cedar has cast his film exceptionally well beginning with Gere, in an unforgettable turn, his familiar good looks now buried in the guise of this Jewish mensch always handy with a business card and a new idea. Ashkenazi is equally fine as the Israeli politician whose own fate becomes intertwined with Norman’s and the group Norman links to the Prime Minister. There’s his understanding nephew (Michael Sheen), a rabbi (Steve Buscemi), a mogul (Harris Yulin) and his assistant (Dan Stevens). Josh Charles, Charlotte Gainsbourg , and Hank Azaria also figure in key roles along the way, but it is Gere who has all the glue to hold it together and keeps us engrossed in the misadventures of this unique man.
Shot in both New York City and Tel Aviv, Cedar has made a compelling and highly entertaining film for adult audiences looking for something different. Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, David Mandil, Eyal Rimmon and Oren Moverman are the producers of the Sony Pictures Classics release which opens today.
Do you plan to see Norman? Let us know what you think.