Richard Gere's natural cool often translates into characters with opaque emotions and empathy, ideal qualities for his enigmatic Norman Oppenheimer in Joseph Cedar's "Norman," originally subtitled "The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer."
Gere's Norman performs small tasks for people they can't comfortably or politically do themselves. He's not exactly a bad guy. He exists, he believes, to help people, to be the hub of his own in-person social network for influential people for whom he works so hard to ingratiate himself.
Starring: Richard Gere, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lior Ashkenazi
Directed by: Joseph Cedar
Other: A Sony Pictures Classics release. Rated R for language. At the River East 21 and Century Centre in Chicago and the Evanston Century 18. 118 minutes
He wants people to like, respect and appreciate him, to validate him. But he has nothing to offer but shameless name-dropping, social bombast, plus fawning, pseudo appreciation.
He cozies up to Israel's deputy minister Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) and insists on buying him a $1,000 pair of shoes he can't afford. Later, Norman brags he picked "the right horse" when Eshel becomes the appreciative prime minister of Israel, giving Norman access to a world of the power elite he can manipulate into financial schemes he erroneously believes he can pull off.
The deferring, insecure Norman gives the erstwhile American Gigolo a fresh set of acting muscles to flex, and Gere portrays the title character as a pathetic loser devoid of foresight and big-picture smarts. His tendency to talk too much -- especially to Charlotte Gainsbourg's embassy official -- turns his own verbal weapons against him.
Ultimately, Israeli writer/director Cedar views Norman as a tragic figure, dubbed "a generous Jew" by those who don't know him at all.
Norman possesses no core values we can detect, no personal history we can be sure of, and no sense of ethics we can confirm.
Tragically, we can't empathize with such a shape-shifting character we know so little about.