Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is a would-be operator, dreaming up financial schemes that never come to fruition. He has nothing real to offer, but strives to be everyone's friend. Networking is his modus operandi. Norman sets his sights on Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a charismatic Israeli politician who is alone in New York at a low point in his career. Sensing Eshel's vulnerability, Norman gifts him with a pair of expensive shoes. When Eshel becomes Prime Minister of Israel three years later, he remembers Norman and his kindness. This is Norman's opportunity to leverage all the deals about which he has dreamed.
Review by Louise Keller:
Everyone uses everyone in Norman, a beguiling portrait of a man who uses people as stepping-stones for his life's journey. Like Joseph Cedar's last film Footnote (2011), the film is inherently Jewish, yet it is universal in its portrayal of human nature and its relationships. It is a wonderful showcase for an Richard Gere, who brings great nuance to the character of Norman, a man who is like a shadow: always there, yet unfathomable. We do not really know him. People are his commodity; networking is his trade. He is a fixer. Gere seems to get better and better; here he plays against type, portraying a character that is not especially likeable as we get to understand Norman and the way he operates and thinks.
Divided into four sections, the film begins slowly, introducing us to its protagonist, described as a drowning man waving at an ocean liner. 'I'm a good swimmer,' he quickly retorts. 'As long as my head is above water.' We see him 'at work', tenaciously approaching all kinds of people, trying to make a connection or get an introduction to someone he would like to meet. Gere has the charisma to convince us of his ability to squirm his way into lives. Key to the exposition is the all-important scene in which he buys visiting Israeli politician Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) a pair of outrageously expensive shoes. It needs to be convincing and it is. Ashkenazi is excellent.
When the payback comes a few years later as Eshel becomes Israel's Prime Minister, we watch as Norman uses his newfound friend's name for his own gain. I love the way Cedar uses split screens to place Norman into the physicality of the constant phone calls - with Eshel and others. It's an inspired cinematic device to inextricably connect the characters. Throughout the film, Gere's wardrobe remains constant: a coat, scarf, hat and earphones.
All the cast is good: Michael Sheen as Norman's nephew Philip and Steve Buscemi as a rabbi. The way the screenplay introduces Charlotte Gainsbourg's Alex, a woman Norman meets on a train, is brilliant and Gainsbourg delivers one of her best recent performances. Watch for Hank Azaria in a mesmerizing cameo.
Tension builds as Norman's grand plans begin to dissipate. With baited breath we watch and wait to see where things are going to lead. I found myself thinking about Norman long after the story ends. This is a film filled with surprises and a haunting glimpse of human behaviour and its interactions.
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NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (M)
(Israel, US, 2016)
CAST: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg
PRODUCER: Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, David Mandil, Oren Moverman, Eyal Rimmon, Gideon Tadmor
DIRECTOR: Joseph Cedar
SCRIPT: Joseph Cedar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yaron Scharf
EDITOR: Brian A. Kates
MUSIC: Jun Miyaki
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kalina Ivanov, Arad Sawat
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Film Group
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 25, 2017