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Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

I don’t care what anybody thinks, An Officer and a Gentleman is one of my favorite movies. The one weak spot in it is Richard Gere. He’s got these beady little eyes and annoying acting tics. He also has a tendency to overact. In that movie there are two scenes, one of which sounds so utterly ridiculous (Gere yelling at Lou Gossett Jr. “I got no place else to go!”).

So I was pleasantly surprised with how Gere transformed into a Woody Allenesque wheeler-dealer. Even though he still has those acting tics, and a voice that sometimes sounds a bit like Rain Man, he gave a solid performance as Norman. The problem is that we see so much of Norman, and not enough of the other characters. And a little Norman goes a long way. Especially when he’s rather annoying (which is part of what the character is supposed to be).

It’s Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s first American feature, and it needed some fixing. It’s the story of a “fixer.” Norman Oppenheimer is always scheming, and what’s odd is that everyone that comes into contact with him already seems to know that. Well, until he meets Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi, who has terrific facial expressions and is perfect in this role). Eshel is a rising Israeli politician who while window shopping in New York, “runs into” Norman. Of course, we already saw Norman stalking and plotting all this. Earlier in the film, when we see him stalk somebody on a morning jog, the interaction was fascinating. The person wanted nothing to do with him. You’re watching this dialogue and wondering just what Norman will say to win this guy over. It never happens, and that was surprisingly refreshing. Usually in movies, people are too naive to see the BS artist. Yet Eshel doesn’t see what’s coming, and once Norman offers to buy him a pair of loafers, Norman thinks he’s in. Maybe it was Norman that didn’t see what was coming — the shoes were over a thousand bucks.

One of the many perplexing things about the movie is what they didn’t reveal. The impression I got was that Norman is homeless. He goes to a synagogue, it’s implied, to stay there after it closes so he can sleep. He also sometimes eats the canned goods he finds in the cupboards there. Yet he’s always impeccably dressed.

Another scene that surprises us by not going down the usual cliche path it could’ve, was a big dinner Norman invites himself to. That’s because he promises to bring Eshel.

Once Eshel becomes Israel’s Prime Minister years later, you think things will start cooking. Yet it never does. It’s at about the halfway point of the movie where you’re left wondering…what is all this wheeling-dealing about? Initially, you think Norman is working on some elaborate pyramid scheme, but it becomes apparent that he’s just making all this crap up. It’s almost like he just gets off on the schmoozing aspect, or earning some bit of respect by being in the right circles. He’s certainly not making money doing all this.

There is never any inner identity with Norman. You’re left wondering what he cared about, or what his past was.

It was a lot more interesting watching Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, as he tries schmoozing people into making money on the stock market.

It was a lot more interesting watching the pathetic salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross and Boiler Room. Watching Norman do it, for no reason that makes sense, loses its stream fast. And for all the praise Gere is certain to get for this character, didn’t he play a similar character in The Hoax 10 years ago?

Steve Buscemi has an interesting role as a rabbi that’s a bit tired of all Norman’s promises.

It’s no longer interesting to see somebody working on that “big deal” when they don’t have an office, and are instead in a bathroom. Gold (Matthew McConaughey) just did that, with a character making deals from a bar. We’ve seen it countless times.

I suppose some will find it fun watching an overbearing, persistent man that doesn’t take no for an answer; or is just too naive to pick up on social cues and doesn’t care if he’s embarrassed in the process. At two hours, I just lost interest.

The score is also overly dramatic, which is always annoying. Let the dialogue and actors dictate my emotions, not loud string or horn arrangements.

This gets 2 stars out of 5.

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