- Jared Huizenga
Gere is at His Absolute Best in ‘Norman’
For the better part of my life Richard Gere has been little more to me than the guy from that annoying movie that my mom loves (“An Officer and a Gentleman”), that other annoying movie that my mom loves (“Pretty Woman”), and the subject of an unfounded rumor about a gerbil.
It turns out, however, that when he’s given the right material to work with, Mr. Gere is quite a force of nature.
Richard Gere as Norman Oppenheimer and Lior Ashkenazi as Micha Eshel in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” (Photo by Niko Tavernise, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
In his latest outing, “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” Gere plays Norman Oppenheimer – a New York businessman of some sort, whose life gets turned upside down when he makes a new (and very unlikely) friend.
As I said, Norman is a businessman, although what exactly his business is doesn’t actually garner much attention. Despite that, Norman gets by and seems to thrive on bringing other people together so that they can all benefit from being in one another’s presence – himself included.
Norman’s semi-quiet life does a 180 after a “business venture” sees him befriend a young politician, Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi). Norman views the up-and-coming Israeli as someone that can help boost his profile and get his foot in the door with other potential business associates … after he tells them that the two are friends.
Surprisingly, the young man takes a shine to Norman. And while their initial meeting doesn’t go as smoothly as Norman would hope, it pays off down the road when Micha becomes prime minister of Israel.
When things head downhill, we find out whether the pair (and, quite frankly, all of Norman’s friends) are true or if these are relationships of convenience.
Richard Gere as Norman Oppenheimer “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” (Photo by Chris Saunders. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
Two words come immediately to mind when I reflect on “Norman.”
The first is “depressing.” “Norman” is depressing for the fact that every character here is incredibly flawed. Their motives aren’t always overtly nefarious, but they’re all using someone for something other than friendship and few, if any, are willing to admit it. Perhaps it just makes one think a bit too much about some of their own relationships.
The second word that comes to mind is “sad.” (No, the two aren’t the same.) The way Gere portrays Norman, and the way he’s written by writer/director Joseph Cedar, is that he’s a genuinely kind-hearted person who just happens to make some very poor decisions. Norman is trusting, and while he wants to use the relationships he’s cultivated to move his life and career forward, he does so seemingly only wanting the best for those friends and associates. Many of those “friends,” however, don’t share Norman’s sentiments.
And that, perhaps, is where “Norman” finds its greatest success. Gere and Cedar have teamed up to create this character that somewhere along the line you end up actually caring about. At least a little. That, in my opinion, is the mark of excellent character development – eliciting feelings for a character in an otherwise forgettable movie.
“Norman” isn’t a bad film, but without the performance of a career from Gere, it very well could have. As I mentioned, it’s kind of a downer and, aside from Gere, the characters and situations surrounding them are entirely forgettable. Those elements, combined with a lack of anything other than cityscapes for scenery, make the just under two-hour runtime drag in many places.
Having said that, however, I have to recommend you go out and see this. This is the kind of performance that could garner awards recognition later in the year … even if the movie itself would be considered a longshot at best.
★★★★ of ★★★★★