Friday, April 14, 2017

“Norman”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Norman”, starring Richard Gere.


When a New York man worms his way into the life of the Israeli Prime Minister, can his newfound influence help him get out of an international corruption scandal?


Norman Oppenheimer (Gere) is what they call a “fixer” – a person who is capable of getting certain types of things done for people, especially for people who are perceived to be somewhat influential.  These things, of course, are done for a price – but not necessarily something that is immediately paid for.  Instead, they might be considered a favor that will need to be repaid at some point in the future.  Norman is such a person who is perfectly willing and able to bend over backwards for people, believing he can call in a favor from them if and when he is in such a need.

So far, Norman’s favors have tended to go to people who are of more modest accomplishments in life.  One day, however, Norman succeeds in catching his White Whale.  Micah Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) is a member of the Knesset currently visiting New York City on a business trip.  Norman, a Jewish man with interests in Israel’s political scene, essentially stalks Eshel; befriending him, Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes that Eshel covets.  They cost Norman around $1200, but he hopes it will turn out to be a worthwhile investment in the long run. 

Over the next several years, Norman and Eshel keep in touch; Norman continues to do a number of small favors for Eshel along the way and Eshel’s political career blossoms.  Eventually, he is elected Prime Minister of Israel.  On Eshel’s first trip to New York since becoming Prime Minister, Norman looks him up and they quickly renew their friendship.  But things do not evolve as Norman thinks; the opposition party in Israel soon accuses Eshel of accepting gifts from a powerful foreign businessman – who astonishingly turns out to be Norman himself!  When Norman finds himself in trouble, can this master manipulator somehow extricate himself without causing problems for his pal?


Once upon a time, we lived in a society where people were not as politically correct as they are now.  During this ancient period, people were not outraged when non-traditional casting was used and actors who were of European descent played Asians and Caucasians might play Mexicans or Indians.  It would be difficult to get away with such things today without getting scathingly criticized, especially in social media.  With that in mind, one must wonder if there will be a backlash over the fact that gentile Richard Gere plays an older Jewish man from Manhattan?

If that happened, it would most certainly be a shame because “Norman:  The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” (the movie’s full title) is full of surprises.  Not only is “Norman” a supremely entertaining film (the first surprise), but Richard Gere is excellent in the title role (the other surprise).  In fact, it would not be going too far to say that this may very well be Gere’s best performance in a very long time.  “Norman” can brag of a great cast, but Gere is uncannily believable as a Jewish man, even if his performance does at times seem reminiscent of a Woody Allen imitation. 

“Norman” is a true gem of a motion picture that deserves as wide an audience as possible.  It’s a truly original story about the meaning and value of friendship as well as the perfidy that is the very nature of politics.  Joseph Cedar wrote and directed; both the script and the visual style of the movie are quite clever in the way Norman’s story unfolds with unexpected moments that really pull in the viewer.  Will “Norman” be perceived as either too Jewish, too New York or too both to get people not of that ethnicity or geography to be interested?  It is far too worthy a film to suffer such a fate.   

Norman (2016) on IMDb

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