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Because he was so handsome as a young actor, and so ubiquitous as a young and not-so-young actor, it's easy to overlook how good Richard Gere can be and the offbeat comedy/drama "Norman" is a slap-in-the-face reminder of his skill as a master manipulator of emotions.
The full title of writer-director Joseph Cedar's movie is "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer," which gives you a concise rundown of the plot. Gere plays Norman Oppenheimer, a fixer more accurately, what in Yiddish is called a "macher" someone adept at fast-talking his way into or out of any situation and making sure the right people meet each other for their mutual benefit.
Norman is smartly dressed, in a suit and overcoat, but has no office. He has an iPhone, a carrying case of business cards, an encyclopedic memory for names and faces, and the uncanny ability to connect to people.
When the movie begins, he's trying to maneuver his way to arrange deals with two rival Manhattan financial titans, Joe Wilf (Harris Yulin) and Arthur Taub (Josh Charles). He's striking out with both of them, though he does make a connection with Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a sad-sack Israeli deputy minister visiting New York. Norman buttonholes Eshel, going so far as buying him a very expensive pair of shoes, and a friendship is made.
Three years later, Eshel is the new prime minister of Israel and suddenly his friendship is making Norman very popular among America's power elite. Wilf and Taub are both wanting to make deals with him, while Norman's friend Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) is counting on him to find a wealthy benefactor so the synagogue can buy its building.
On the Israeil side, officials are more circumspect. Eshel's chief of staff, Duby (Yehudi Almagor), fears Norman's friendship could derail his boss's attempts at a Middle East peace accord. And Norman's rise draws the attention of Alex Greene (Charlotte Gainsbourg), an investigator in the Israeli Justice Ministry's office in New York.
Cedar, a New York-born Israeli filmmaker who made the Oscar-nominated academic drama "Footnote," precisely captures the nexus between the Israeli government and New York's Jewish community, where influence flows quietly under the surface of official relations. A string of favors, going from Rabbi Blumenthal to Norman's lawyer nephew Philip (Michael Sheen) to Eshel to Wall Street investors, ties all of Cedar's characters together, with Norman either pulling the strings or caught in the web.
Gere dances on those strings with the easy grace of a tightrope walker. When Norman's schemes start spiraling out of control, Gere quickens the pace to match, barely holding back the panic that all his dealmaking will collapse on him. It's a breathtaking performance, and it gives "Norman" a heartbreaking, tragic edge.
Richard Gere is brilliant as a New York fixer whose dealmaking spirals out of control in this precise comedy-drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, May 19.
Rating • R for some language.
Running time • 118 minutes; in English, and in Hebrew with subtitles.