R, Center for Contemporary Arts,
Richard Gere plays Norman, the eponymous hero of this archly named character study of a flimflam man who suddenly finds himself operating at an unaccustomed altitude and gasping for breath. Gere is garnering fine reviews for this performance, and one’s appreciation or tolerance for the actor’s idiosyncrasies will provide a pretty accurate gauge of one’s reaction to this quirky New York tale.
A con man has to inspire confidence. That’s pretty basic to the job description, and Gere, for me, has always had a smile that seems to hurt his face. When Norman glad-hands, the hands seem more sweaty than glad.
Norman Oppenheimer is not a big success. He’s a fixer who makes his tenuous living spinning tall tales, ingratiating himself with the mighty by doing them favors and hoping to reap rewards. Norman has spent his life struggling to keep a lot of balls in the air in a desperate juggling act that always seems on the brink of crashing to the ground. But in the movie’s key set-up, he insinuates himself into the company of a mid-level Israeli politician named Micha Eshel (a superb Lior Ashkenazi). He follows Eshel through Midtown Manhattan after a symposium, and strikes up a conversation with him as he’s admiring a pair of expensive shoes in a shop window. Over the Israeli’s protests, Norman buys him the shoes. It’s an investment that pays off three years later, when Eshel returns to New York as Israel’s prime minister.
Eshel’s warm embrace of “Norman, my friend!” at a reception sets our man up as a somebody, and fuels his credibility in a number of other “fixes” he’s trying to leverage. These involve a business mogul (the invaluable Harris Yulin) and his nephew Dan Stevens), his rabbi (Steve Buscemi), and his lawyer nephew (Michael Sheen). But the basis for the Eshel friendship is never credibly established. Indeed, it’s a matter of considerable suspicion for the people around Eshel, and particularly for Israeli intelligence operative Alex Green (an excellent Charlotte Gainsbourg), whom he meets on a train from Washington to New York.
The political intricacies of this story, by the Israeli-American writerdirector Joseph Cedar keep things interesting, and the solid supporting cast helps us to overlook some of the story’s weak points. Eventually, as the threads knot and tangle around Norman and threaten to bring him and his precarious house of cards to grief, there is only one avenue that leads to redemption. — Jonathan Richards