by Joni Blyth
Norman sets out its game pieces very early on, and delivers exactly what the title promises: there’s a bloke called Norman, he’s a fixer, he manages to find a very average amount of success before screwing everything up entirely.
That’s pretty much it – Norman isn’t exactly Tom Hagen, or even much of a Fredo. He’s small time, blustering his way into a little bit of power and trying desperately to make mountains out of molehills. When his tragic fall comes, it’s not a dramatic unravelling of a grand heist, or an empire collapsing into itself – no one is going to remember the day they took down Norman Oppenheimer.
Which is precisely the point, and thanks to a great central performance, Norman manages to make the uninteresting seem pretty damn interesting. Richard Gere shrugs off the confidence of 40 years of stardom with ease, and melds into Norman. A little tic, a grimace there, and Gere wouldn’t look out of place in the New York Diner of your imagination, that old man in the corner in the coat nursing a cup of coffee and a tuna sandwich.
Norman is so weathered it’s pitiful, and without this layer in Gere’s performance, the whole film would fall apart. Gere’s social climbing feels less like manipulation and more like an old man trying to stay out of the cold – of poverty, of irrelevance, of a frosted and uncaring city. If Norman wasn’t so pitifully endearing, you’d be cheering as this slimy, lying sycophant talks his way into trouble – but even someone so smarmy doesn’t deserve to be out in this wind, and so Norman talks his way into your heart.
We haven’t talked much about the plot, but we’ve basically covered everything. Norman’s scheming is incomprehensible, and the film smartly avoids wasting too much time of the finer details of his day-to-day, and lets off a little visual steam in the process as we fast track through endless networking and gladhanding.
Unfortunately the majority the cast are lost in this shuffle, and some excellent actors are reduced to almost-cameo status. Dan Stevens, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Josh Charles are all relegated to the side lines, and even Steve Buscemi barely registers on the notability scale, although he hams it up as best he can as an exasperated rabbi.There are two standouts; Hank Azaria makes a cracking appearance, stealing a small scene as the ghost of christmas future (not his actual credit), and Lior Ashkenazi plays off well against Gere, forging a believable friendship in a short space of time.
Unfortunately, while it makes for a cracking title, ‘moderate rise and tragic fall’ wouldn’t sell you on a rollercoaster, and it doesn’t exactly make for riveting cinema. This wintery walk in the footsteps of one old man trying to make his name is pleasant enough, but the lack of any significant crescendo leaves something akin to elevator music. Like it’s title character, Norman fails to make much of a footprint, apart from imagining future titles in this burgeoning cinematic universe of mediocrity. “Kevin: The Minor Successes and Unfortunate Missteps of a Cincinnati Cobbler” will stay with me – this film might not.
Dir: Joseph Cedar
Scr: Joseph Cedar
Cast: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Steve Buscemi, Michael Sheen
Prd: Michal Graidi, Caroline Kaplan, Jim Kaufman, Amanda Marshall
DOP: Yaron Scharf
Music: Jun Miyake
Country: USA, Israel
Run time: 118 minutes