Norman – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Joseph Cedar
Writer: Joseph Cedar
Stars: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Dan Stevens
“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”
Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That fails to be the case with Joseph Cedar’s latest film “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”. Here the “parts” are all excellent – a stellar cast, an original story and an outstanding performance from Richard Gere in the title role – but the overall effect lacks the punch that all of the parts should deliver.
From the moment we meet Norman, in his camel-hair coat and grey flat cap (which he wears constantly over the four years that the film is set), talking, cajoling and trying to persuade punters to join in his suspect and often illegal schemes, we are aware of his relentless energy and his eternal optimism. He is a hustler who seems impervious to rejection and the insults of his would-be clients, always finding some positive aspect of conversation to latch onto in order to maintain contact and re-establish negotiations.
Set mainly among the Jewish community in New York, his luck changes dramatically when he stalks and, later, befriends a delegate at a conference he attends, an Israeli deputy minister of industry, Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi). Though the encounter costs him an incredible $1192 for a pair of shoes he buys for Eshel,”the most expensive pair of shoes in New York”, it is a purchase that will change his life.
The action shifts forward four years. Eshel has just been elected Prime Minister of Israel and comes to the US on a state visit. Because of the apparent friendship between the two men, Norman has become the person everybody wants to know. With more balls in the air than the most skilful juggler, he makes lavish promises to all around but soon finds himself totally out of depth.
Gere gives a performance that is subtle and nuanced. We are told nothing of Norman’s background or history, apart from the tall tales, constantly changing, that he tells his would-be punters. He seems like a force of nature, living totally in the present, scheming and planning for the future. He has a nephew, Philip, (a great performance by Michael Sheen) but not even the viewers, like the agent investigating his case (Charlotte Gainsbourg), know where he lives.
The supporting cast, including Steve Buscemi and Dan Stevens, are excellent and it is a pity that they are let down, at times, by a film that seems too self-consciously clever. The Jewish context, the jazzy score as well as the hyper-active portrayal of Norman could all have come straight from a mid-career Woody Allen movie but Allen would certainly have avoided the Russian dolls confusion of the plot. Norman has first class performances and Gere must surely deserve an Oscar nomination for his part and though the pace may drag at times, this is an innovative and engaging film.