NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER review

Um… it looks alright. I have no idea what to say. I’m not even I entirely know what this movie is about. Some guy is supposed to be a well-respected fixer, then later loses his touch? If I were to hazard a guess, it’s because he’s getting older and less relevant, but he’s got one last shot to prove that he’s as good as once was. Eh… that’s probably incredibly off, especially considering how cliché I just made it sound, so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s much better than that.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring is Richard Gere (MOVIE 43 [2013], AMELIA [2009], and RUNAWAY BRIDE [1999]). When was the last time you saw this guy in a movie worth seeing? I mean, the 90’s were practically owned by this guy, but he sort of dropped out of existence some time in the mid 2000’s. Well, good to see him coming back. In support, we also have the amazing Michael Sheen (PASSENGERS [2016], FROST/NIXON [2008], and UNDERWORLD [2003]), the legendary Steve Buscemi (THE BOSS BABY [2017], CHARLOTTE’S WEB [2006], and FARGO [1996]), Dan Stevens (COLOSSAL [2017], THE FIFTH ESTATE [2013], and TV show LEGION) Lior Ashkenazi (a ton of foreign or unknown films), and Charlotte Gainsbourg (INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE [2016], MELANCHOLIA [2011], and JANE EYRE [1996]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Joseph Cedar, known for foreign films. Not familiar with anyone else on the project, so let’s push ahead.

Overall, I’m not sure what to say or feel, so… here we go.

This is my honest opinion of: NORMAN

(SUMMARY)

Norman (Richard Gere) is a well-meaning, but often intrusive fixer, constantly offering his services to high-profile individuals and connections to other high-profile individuals. Soon, he meets a young Israeli politician named Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkanazi) and the two become good friends. But as the years go by, their connection to each other changes Norman’s life, some in good ways, some in bad, leading to some huge consequences when Micha becomes Israeli’s Prime Minister.

(REVIEW)

And… I’ve got nothing. To this very moment, I have no idea what this movie is about or what the critics see in this picture. I’m not going to go out and say that I hate this movie or anything, but… damn, why the rave reviews?

From start to finish, I haven’t the slightest idea what this movie was about. If you thought my half-assed summary up top was… well, half-assed, you’d be correct. That’s all that I really took away from the film. You have this really obnoxious guy who somehow knows where to find these high profile people and tries to help them out in whatever way he can offer, usually trying to get them to meet another high profile person that he somehow knows. The movie is divided into four acts. I know this because each new act is labeled for the audience. The first act is all about Norman trying to get this one guy to meet this Israeli politician, Micha Eshel. But… why? I don’t recall a single bit of dialog that explains Norman’s motivations, desperation, or perpetual need to get these two men to meet. Yet, that doesn’t stop him from calling Eshel repeatedly.

And that’s the consistent problem that I had with this movie. A bunch of stuff happens and you have Norman trying mediate something that will benefit someone, but there’s nothing to explain anything. Scenes happen and you never really understand their relevance to the overall story, if there is one to speak of. There’s this political get-together to congratulate the new Prime Minister, and Norman and Micha are reunited in friendship after three years. I do not know the point other than to have an excuse for Norman and Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to meet up on a bus later. There’s an extended montage scene with Norman trying to save a… synagogue, or something, from being torn down and they need to raise money to save it. Norman says he has an anonymous donor, but at the end of this montage, he tells Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) that the donor wants to remain anonymous, even though we know that Norman doesn’t have such a source. Why does he lie? I get that Norman is just a guy trying to do good with his life and to do right by the people around him, but this excessive lying is beyond frustrating because half his problems later on wouldn’t have been an issue if he’d just been honest and said that he tried, but his efforts didn’t pan out in their favor. People are more understanding than that and even if there is a knee-jerk negative reaction, that would fade in time. Beside that, this is also as cliché as you can get because it sets up a liar-reveal scene. You know, character lies for insert-bullshit-reason here, someone or everyone finds out about the lie, which results in the character’s proverbial balls getting kicked. We see it coming a mile away and it’s not suspenseful. It’s irritating, which goes back to my original thought; there’s no motivation behind it!

But as much as this really hurts the film, there are plenty of surprisingly good things about it.

For one, Gere is phenomenal. I know I’m complaining about the character of Norman a lot, but the character is, for all his inconsistencies, very well written and Gere shines beautifully. While Norman’s less than ideal actions wear off in the second half of the film, there is a likability about him that kept me from completely hating him or finding him annoying. Yes, Norman is intrusive and has no real concept of leaving things well enough alone, but he’s so brilliantly written that he’s that despicable. You always have this sense that he’s trying to make everyone’s life better, even when it doesn’t work out well and he never seems to get anything of value out of it other than the personal victory of being helpful. That’s actually a really admirable trait to have in a character and his flaws keep him interesting and engaging until the very end. Oh, there’s certainly been characters that have been done before that try to do the right thing but somehow make things worse, but Norman feels fresh and unique. Even when he’s lying, he’s always got something nice to say about the people he’s lying about, and for all intents and purposes, he’s not entirely wrong. He’s just caught up in a bad situation that he’s trying to get out of. It may not take away from the fact that we don’t know how or why he’s in these situations at all or what’s at stake if he fails and why that means anything to him, but the performance from Gere alone is worth the price of admission.

And there are some pretty fun plays on interconnected scenes. You know how in a lot of “business” type movies that when two characters are talking on the phone and the screen splits in two to show both characters talking in their respective locations like comic book panels? Well, this movie does that, but in a very unique kind of way. The dual locations are shown like they’re on the same set, or in the same shot. Damn it, I wish I knew how to properly explain it. It’s like, on one half of the screen, you have Gere outside next to a tall building, it’s cloudy outside, and standing next to a fountain, right? The other half of the screen is some schmucks in suits in an office building, sitting at a desk, and it’s sunny outside. Usually, there’s a black line running down the screen to illustrate that the scenes are separate, but there isn’t one here and it’s kind of trippy to speculate if these scenes really are in different locations, or if they really are just incredible set pieces. Again, this movie is incredible for that alone.

For all the great things in this movie, there’s an equal amount of bad. Gere’s performance is brilliant, but Norman’s motivations are nonexistent, despite being a likable character. The story itself makes very little sense and gives no reason for the audience to really care about what is happening or what the consequences are should failure be met. Some scenes work amazingly, but they don’t save the movie as a whole. By no means bad, but I have a hard time to bring myself to say that it’s really good. There is something here of value and worth checking out. So… yeah, I recommend this movie. In theaters, a matinee ticket at best, or definitely worth a rental. It doesn’t have the widest release, so finding it may be a challenge, but it’s worth seeing. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t see myself revisiting it. Maybe some scenes, but not the entire movie.

My honest rating for NORMAN: 3/5

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