Norman

 

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The film known in its fuller title as "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”.

 

Norman

If the shoe fits: Richard Gere with Lior Ashkenazi

 

As he gets older, Richard Gere is enhancing his reputation. In 2012 he made Arbitrage and gave a performance that found him at the top of his form and now hardly less tellingly he appears as Norman Oppenheim in this film written and directed by the Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar. These may not be films to set the box-office alight, but they confirm that Gere can command the screen in what can be thought of as character roles. That is especially true of Norman, which finds him embodying to perfection the New York loner who is the decidedly complex central figure here.

 

Like many a con man, Norman is always telling lies as he seeks to ingratiate himself with strangers to whom he makes approaches, but he is more a dreamer than a criminal. He offers to make introductions as though he is a person with important connections yet for all his endeavours and conniving he carries the mark of someone destined to fail in life. Even so, in the first of four Acts (the film is divided into four titled sections so described), Norman encounters a deputy minister from Israel (Lior Ashkenazi) and that leads to circumstances in which the politician feels that he has let him down. Consequently, in the Second Act set three years later, Norman’s prospects are suddenly transformed for this man, back once again in America, has become the Israeli Prime Minister and is ready to compensate by acknowledging Norman as a friend. Norman’s life now seems to be poised on a new level but, ironically, fate will lead to Norman being sacrificed yet finding in that situation a kind of redemption.

 

That plot description may indicate the unusual nature of the story, but the film is considerably more strange than one might suppose. This is partly due to the oddity of its tone (the jaunty music score initially promises a comedy but the film’s themes tend to be serious). Even more it is down to the fact that in a dialogue-heavy piece Cedar seeks to compensate for that aspect by introducing moments of extreme visual stylisation. One scene has Norman as the one moving figure among others who remain frozen within a shot and there are several examples of images that blend two locations in one (a bizarre extension of the not unfamiliar split screen). As we struggle to make sense of this, political elements also play a part in adding to the film’s troubling complexity (the movie shows alongside its ironic humour an awareness of the ruthlessness that drives politicians and incorporates a plea for compromise in a world of extremism). It’s all adventurous stuff, but often bewildering and demanding in its variety. Watching it feels like being on constantly shifting ground: what is sure-footed is the acting - not just Gere but the distinguished supporting cast with Charlotte Gainsbourg making a particularly memorable contribution.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Hank Azaria, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Josh Charles, Caitlin O'Connell, Harris Yulin, Jonathan Avigdori, Yehuda Almagor.

 

Dir Jospeh Cedar, Pro Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, David Mandil, Oren Moverman, Eyal Rimmon and Gideon Tadmor, Screenplay Jospeh Cedar, Ph Yaron Scharf, Pro Des Kalina Ivanov and Arad Sawat, Ed Brian A. Kates, Music Jun Miyake, Costumes Michelle Matland.

 
Tadmor/Cold Iron Pictures/The Rabinovich Foundation/The Jerusalem Film Fund/Keshet International-Sony Pictures.
118 mins. Israel/USA. 2016. Rel: 9 June 2017. Cert. 15.