NORMAN – A Review By Susan Kandell

 

There's an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others”. This is most certainly the mantra of Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere), a man who is at once both a nobody and a somebody, looking to go very far. And indeed he does, followed by the inevitable, albeit spectacular, crash. No spoiler here – just take a peek at the sub-title.

This is the first English-speaking feature film of writer-director Joseph Cedar who wrote and directed FOOTNOTE, which was nominated for the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. Born in New York City, Cedar moved to Israel with his family at age six and grew up in Jerusalem. In the press notes, Cedar speaks about wanting to revise an old-world tale about “Court Jews”; those, who in return for their services, gained social privileges and sometimes noble titles. “By making NORMAN, I’m trying to correct part of that [story], or at least offer another perspective on this type of person,” states Cedar.

Certainly we’ve all known machers like Norman Oppenheimer; a sweet and sympathetic character who has made a career out of being the one that can get things done. He’s not in the game for money, (although he will help you raise a million or so for your shul) – it’s all about networking and connections. For Norman, it’s not “what you know, but who you know that counts”.

Norman knows that in business and life, relationship is everything. His goal is not just to be a fixer, but a “gantser macher”; a real operator, a real big shot. His very human need to be needed leads him to embellish the truth in an effort to wheel and deal. When his ploy to arrange the ultimate connection pays off, it sets off a chain of events that even Norman can’t fix. Befriending the Deputy Minister of Trade and Labor from Israel, Micha Eshel (a wonderful Lior Ashkenazi) evolves from his ultimate dream to his eventual nightmare.

Norman is a terrific film, with great character development, humor and a touch of O.Henry thrown in for good measure. Richard Gere is Norman, decked out in a camel’s hair overcoat and earbuds dangling as he winds his way through a snowy New York City. Gere perfectly balances Norman’s neediness with a grand dollop of chutzpah. Could this be the role that brings him to the attention of the Oscar committee? Perhaps Norman knows who to call.

 

Runtime: 117 minutes

Rated R for language

In English and Hebrew

Norman opens Friday, May 5th at Angelika Film Center Dallas and Plano.

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