Norman is a film that seems to have no climax, no major visual effects or big moments, but that ends up being entertaining, unpredictable (despite its full title) and refreshing. It has great performances, clever dialogues, a well used soundtrack and a talented Richard Gere that is able turn a most likely obnoxious character into a sympathetic and lovable one.
I’m still not sure if Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer was the most adequate title for this film, as the ending would have been more impactful had we not known what to expect. With that said, Joseph Cedar (Footnote) who wrote and directed Norman did a commendable job in both tasks. It’s a smart fluid screenplay with clever dialogues that tells the story of Norman Oppenheimer, played by Richard Gere (Chicago, Pretty Woman), a “consultant” who is determined to make his business (whatever that is) grow by connecting people and dropping names relying on phone calls and a peculiar method. He then meets the man who would become the Prime Minister of Israel and Norman’s life takes an unexpected turn. This Prime Minister is nicely portrayed by Lior Ashkenazi (Footnote, Walk on Water) who is a recurrent actor in this director’s films; we also see other familiar faces like Michael Sheen (Passengers, Twilight) who plays Norman’s nephew; the unmistakable Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire, Reservoir Dogs) who plays a very strange rabbi and Norman’s friend; and one of Lars von Trier’s muses, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac, Melancholia).
Norman’s character is a fixer who uses his wit to make connections and create networks that allow him to ask for favours and also make them in return, although there is not much information about is motivation behind it. At the beginning of the film Norman’s intentions seem questionable but things change as the movie develops and we get to see a different side of him. He comes across as a lonely and desperate person who is eager to meet people and always has an elaborate anecdote to tell, which is usually made up or embellished to serve his networking purposes. It is never clear what his goals are because he’s actions are usually cryptic and not always understandable, but that’s where the Cedar and Gere’s artistry shine together: they make you care for a man who is constantly lying and you never fully understand why; they make you take sides with a character that is very hard to identify with, except for the universal strong desire of most humans to feel appreciated, to succeed, to belong; which is what makes this character so engaging.
While most of the two hours of Norman keep an interesting and regular pace introducing new and key characters to keep the engine of this intricate machinery going, the last twenty minutes bring the story to an unsettling but cohesive conclusion that feels to move a lot faster. When the end credits appear on the screen, Norman, a film that flew under the radar and was eclipsed by big budget movies, superheroes and remakes, leaves a lingering feeling of reflection not only about Norman’s life and decisions, but also about your own.