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Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

It's difficult to gauge this movie with a curiously long title (sometimes listed only as Norman, which is meaningless out of context, but listed in its entirety on movie posters and in the title credits), and who it might be recommended to. The script, by far the best thing about it, tells a unique story, at least as compared to other movies. I can't think of any other film to compare it to. I wonder how it was described in pitch meetings?

For much of the story, Richard Gere's Norman Oppenheimer is painful to watch in his strained endeavors to bullshit his way into the good graces of virtually everyone around him -- starting with, in the very opening scene, his nephew, Philip (Michael Sheen). Norman is trying to get contact information for someone Philip works with, someone so much further up the ladder that Philip doesn't even want to be known as the guy who supplied the email address. What Norman wants with this person was never quite clear to me, but I'm not sure it matters.

What does matter is that Norman pesters other associates of this guy's to the point of exasperation, until he gets into a conference where he meets an Israeli politician visiting New York. Norman follows opportunity wherever he sees it, and although his attempt at using this politician to get into a private dinner for Philip's associate fizzles embarrassingly, this politician winds up, after three years of small favors, being Israeli Prime Minister Micha Eshel. This is a guy who, after Norman managed to talk his way into a store in New York with him and buy him a pair of shoes, actually gives him his personal cell number -- which remains the same after he becomes Prime Minster. How realistic that is, exactly, I'm not sure, but whatever.

I spent a lot of Norman just feeling embarrassed for Norman. He's building a house of cards for himself with a foundation of bullshit, all designed with the intent of dubious promises given to all around actually coming through in the end. You can kind of guess how that works out.

It's the trajectory and sequence events leading to -- this is hardly a spoiler, as it is literally in the title -- Norman's ultimate downfall that makes Norman a far more compelling story in retrospect than it seemed it might be at the beginning. Writer-director Joseph Cedar's script is so well crafted you can't help but be impressed. Plenty of well-respected actors must have felt the same way, rounding out a strong supporting cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Hank Azaria, Dan Stevens and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Eshel is played by the less recognizable Lior Ashkenazi, but he also deserves notice.

Richard Gere is as good as can be expected as the title character. I was slightly distracted by the knowledge that this character of indeterminate age is being portrayed by a 67-year-old actor. Granted, this is a man who famously has a younger look, but even that can only last so long. And how many guys pushing seventy gets by on this kind of so-called "business"? His business cards, with only a cell number and no street address, say OPPENHEIMER STRATEGIES. Exactly what he's strategizing is a mystery.

That's not meant as a criticism. Gere's age is probably more of a distraction to me than most people, who won't care. This desperate manner of trying to get ahead in life is quite clearly the point of the story, and how his perceived friendship with the man who would be Prime Minster affects such ambitions is well crafted. By the end, a whole lot of pieces you didn't even realize were part of a plot puzzle begin getting pieced together, and you wind up surprised by how satisfying it really was. The story is deeply related to politics, but less a political procedural than a unique sort of suspense. It's easy to think of Norman as a throwaway douchebag until you start to sympathize with him. It's the kind of storytelling that impresses by being both increasingly gripping and respectable.

Richard Gere and Lior Ashkenazi don't know how prescient that dog is in NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER.

Overall: B+
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