R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts,

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - (Foot­note), (Down­ton Abbey’s

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

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