Around the same time I saw Norman, another Richard Gere moving was showing at my theater just down the hall, The Dinner. In that movie, Gere plays a character who is running for public office and, in turn, more likable, because you have to be somewhat likable to even consider public office in the first place. In Norman, Gere is anything of the such. In fact, you spend most of the time disgusted by him, rooting against him and hoping that he fails. You’d think this makes Norman impossible to watch, but it isn’t (although it is slow and tedious at times.) If anything, it serves as testament that Richard Gere can pull off any role convincingly, even if it’s completely out of his normal characterization: this time being a nebbish, conniving, Jewish New York power broker.
Here’s the skinny: Gere plays Norman, a Frank Abagnale-sort of conman without the charm. He woos and wows higher level officials with his slew of connections and reaps favors and benefits from them in return. None of these people actually like Norman, but they are under the impression that other people do, so they deal with him in order to get a seat at the power table.
One of these people is an up and coming Israeli politician Eshel, played by Lior Ashkenazi and without question is the best part of the film. Norman seeks his claws into Eshel early on, and when the Israeli ends up becoming prime minister of the Jewish state, Norman uses his powerful connection to broker deals, favors and donations. Then when things start to unravel, those same connections bark back at Norman, asking for returns on their investment. This is where the film gets exciting, where the tedious first act (there’s actually four acts) proves to be worth our investment of time.
Norman isn’t necessarily a movie that you won’t be able to enjoy if you aren’t Jewish. But it certainly will help, as being from a Jewish background, you’ll be privy to the donations and favors that go into things like synagogue upkeep, religious wedding conversions and brokering peace deals in the middle east. Parts of Norman seem laughable at times, exaggerated for the sake of dramedy. “There’s no way peace in the middle east could be accomplished through missed phone calls from some random guy who doesn’t even have his own office in New York City.” But when looking at the current state of affairs in our country and world, it only supports Norman’s central thesis: that power arises where people think there is power, and that anyone will go to great lengths just to be part of the conversation.