Norman finds second Gere

Movie review: Norman

Taking on the role of a New York fixer in Joseph Cedar’s modern iteration of the ‘Court Jew’ archetype, Richard Gere proves he’s capable of suppressing his sexiness in service to a worthy, if pathetic, cause

Norman

3.5/5

Starring: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, Hank Azaria, Yehuda Almagor

Directed by: Joseph Cedar

Running time: 1 hr 58 mins

MPAA Rating: Restricted

Norman Richard Gere

Desperately seeking Sexy: Richard Gere’s ears were cosmetically enlarged, but the rest of the transformation is all thespian.

By Katherine Monk

Surprise! Richard Gere is a real actor.

It may have been obvious to those already in his fan club — those he left breathless in his dress Navy whites and American Gigolo jeans. Back in the day. Before the hamster wheel of time whipped Zack Mayo into a gelatinous icon. Before Gere became a hunk of Hollywood baloney sandwiched between white bread romance and pickled thrillers.

Through those deceptively seductive squinty eyes, you loyal Gerephiles may have already felt Gere’s soft soul. Detected the faint, sweet, manly musk of worn leather tingle in your nostrils. Something real. Something dear. Something Gere.

Whatever it is, I felt it in Norman. A strange amalgam of eccentric character study, Wall Street confidence games and the socio-political threads connecting the U.S. and Israel, Norman is the creation of American writer-director Joseph Cedar.

In 2011, Cedar directed Footnote, the story of a fierce father-son rivalry set against an academic background. It proved Cedar knew the contours of masculine ego, which means he knew everything at stake in Norman. For Norman is a story of the un-actualized self, of someone seeking something in his own man-cave, groping in the empty darkness in search of ever-elusive meaning.

In many ways, it’s a truly pathetic encounter. Yet, thanks to Gere in the title role, Norman is nothing less than a revelation because Norman is everything Gere is not.

Frail, anxious, insecure and outfitted with pronounced progressive lenses, Norman is what’s known as a New York ‘fixer’: He connects people with power, curries favour and carries out less-savoury tasks in exchange for a foot in the door.

In many ways, it’s a truly pathetic encounter. Yet, thanks to Gere in the title role, Norman is nothing less than a revelation because Norman is everything Gere is not.

Cedar describes him as a modern interpretation of the “Court Jew” archetype: The story of an outsider who gets cozy with the king, becomes the object of jealousy, and finds himself exiled once more.

When we meet Norman, he’s trying to hustle a Wall Street hedge fund manager. It’s an everyday thing, only Norman is so far outside the circle of influence, he ambushes the power broker while he’s on his run. He’s greeted with a “not you again!” sneer, but Norman perseveres nonetheless, shuffling after the man in pricey Spandex in a slow-motion chase.

This is our introduction, and it’s so unflattering that we’re already craving character redemption — if only because Gere is the star. This is the softer, inner drama that Cedar has a chance to chisel at slowly in our subconscious mind. Norman may be a total putz, but in the back of our minds we suspect there could be something heroic about him. Not just because he’s Richard Gere, but because the character has so much integrity thanks to Gere’s performance.

He’s eliciting sympathy in subtle ways, so even when the drama seems to meander into Crazy Town via a storyline about Israeli-U.S. relations, we’re so engrossed in the character that the narrative mayhem becomes little more than debris on Norman’s road to potential redemption.

It’s hard to tell exactly what Cedar was looking to say with the whole movie. Which is relief: It’s about Middle Eastern tensions and American influence. Yet, there’s no doubt what Cedar was interested in exploring as he takes us behind the scenes of New York’s Zionist community, where we see how money and power is often brokered over a private dinner on the Upper Eastside.

Norman can do nothing but crash the party, which means there’s an element of comic discomfort to it all. Cedar lacks the comic chops to bring a Woody Allen brand of pathos to the mix, but Gere doesn’t.

He takes every blunt instrument of rejection that Cedar creates, and through his face and body language alone, turns them into razor blades of self-doubt. It’s a deft performance that possesses the dramatic footwork needed to dance around the awkward mise-en-scene.

Truly, there are moments when the direction and the denouement feel altogether random. Gere, and Gere alone, is the reason why Norman is a treat to watch.

The satisfaction of watching him go from Gere to way out there may not tingle the same neurons as American Gigolo, or cause the same secretions as Zack Mayo in his dress whites. Norman actually goes a little deeper, and delivers the stripped down search for recreation. I can’t tell you if Norman gets there, lest I become a spoiler, but I can definitely declare myself a witness to Richard Gere’s thespian rebirth.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, May 10, 2017

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Review: Norman

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Summary

3.5Score

Taking on the role of a New York fixer in Joseph Cedar's modern iteration of the 'Court Jew' archetype, Richard Gere proves he's capable of suppressing his sexiness in service to a worthy, if pathetic, cause. Gere is nothing short of a revelation as he assumes a self-effacing, Woody Allen-like demeanour as a man worming his way through the Big Apple's monied core. The movie meanders, but Gere is rock solid as the flake. -- Katherine Monk

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