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April 20, 2017 5:43 pm

Richard Gere Plays a ‘Macher’ in New Film

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

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Review

Richard Gere in ‘Norman.’ Photo: Sony Pictures Classics.

In the movie Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Richard Gere doesn’t fall in love with any pretty women. But he does a spectacular job of playing a wannabe “macher” — or big shot.

Gere’s character, Norman, is a schmoozer with a tacky business card, who quickly walks the streets of Manhattan — and is always on the telephone. He offers to introduce anyone to everyone, and to do favors for all of them. Of course, he doesn’t actually know who he claims to know, and he has no qualms about fibbing to inflate his status.

But things get a little better for Norman when he runs into an old friend — an Israeli politician named Micha Eshel (played to perfection by Lior Ashkenazi). Norman befriends Eshel, and buys him a pair of shoes as a gift (a pair of shoes that cost $1,192).

Eshel claims that he’s politically washed up, but three years later, he becomes the prime minister of Israel — and makes Norman a liaison to the New York Jewish community. At the AIPAL conference (a nod to AIPAC), everyone suddenly wants to know who Norman is, and to give him their business card. 

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Gere works his magic without any cathartic explosion. Norman is undaunted in his quest for notoriety, and is not deterred by insults or rejection. The film’s director, Joseph Cedar, purposely gives Norman no backstory — and while Norman claims to have a daughter, we never see her (or any of his family members). 

Steve Buscemi is brilliant as a rabbi who isn’t as religious as he should be, while trying to raise $14 million to save his congregation from losing their building. Buscemi gets one scene where he unleashes a little bit of Nucky Thompson, the gangster that he played on Boardwalk Empire. As Srul Katz, Hank Azaria is perfect as the Israeli version of Norman; he has a scene with Gere that is pure comic gold.

In his first film in English, Cedar is extremely impressive in understanding the tone, language and gestures of the New York political elite.

In his Israeli film Beaufort, Cedar showed that while we may think of soldiers as heroes, many go unknown and uncelebrated. In Footnote, he displayed the tensions between fathers and sons in a compelling drama. Both of those films, which were in Hebrew, drew Oscar nominations.

In this film, Norman gets his 15 minutes of fame, but also finds himself sitting in a heap of garbage — literally. Yet despite being ostracized by the powers that be, he is able to make one big and surprising move at the film’s end. While Gere might be the last person you’d expect in such a role, he nails it completely.

In the end, when it comes to politics — and being a macher — there’s a fine line between being a somebody and a nobody. But that being said, a small person can still cause big trouble.

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