The subtitle of “Norman” is “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” The results of that subtitle are weird, honest, comical, and riveting on all accounts. It features one of the best ensembles in one of the few entertaining Indies out this Spring.
The movie is told in four acts. The first act is called “A Foot in the Door.” Richard Gere is sensational as Norman Oppenheimer, a New York hustler with his business “Norman Strategies,” who befriends an Israeli politician named Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), and buys him expensive shoes during their first interaction.
The second act is called “The Right Horse,” in which “3 Years and Many Small Favors Later,” Eshel becomes the Prime Minister of Israel, and is happy to see Norman for the first time in years. And then on a train ride, Norman starts a conversation with a government reporter (Charlotte Gainsbourg) about her career and she questions him about his “friendship” with the Prime Minister.
The third act is called “The Anonymous Donor,” in which the local synagogue, run by Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi), is in need of $14 million. Norman claims he may have found a donor for half the cost, but makes the donor anonymous. This episode features one of the best split screens I’ve ever seen. It consists of a montage involving Norman’s phone calls, and with the miracle of either special effects or set designs, those images are close together. For example, if he is calling his lawyer nephew (Michael Sheen), his escalator riding is next to they lawyer’s office, or he is in the same room as a tycoon’s assistant (Dan Stevens).
And the final episode is thrilling. It’s called “The Act of Peace,” and it involves the Prime Minister under hot water for bribery charges, and Norman wants to help him out. It’s riveting in the guilts and consequences of their so-called friendship.
“Norman” was written and directed by Joseph Cedar, who has painted this picture with the kind of unusual narrative and charming characters it deserves. Gere gives one of his best performances, Ashkenazi is a knock-out, and Sheen, Stevens, Buscemi, Gainsbourg, and Hank Azaria (as a cameo fixer) help round out the cast very well. I didn’t always understand it, but I still ate the movie’s unusual taste of filmmaking.