In Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Richard Gere once again demonstrates how a leading man can gracefully make the transition into a formidable character actor. Gere’s Norman Oppenheimer is a small-time fixer, consultant, but more likely something akin to a con artist, always on the lookout for a financial opportunity or a chance to ingratiate himself with either the Jewish community or the New York elite. Norman is nothing if not persistent, one of those individuals who will not take “no” for an answer, even (or perhaps especially) in the face of an obvious rebuff. He’s someone who’s eternally in over his head but prides himself on “being a good swimmer.” Yet in Gere’s capable hands, one can see the desperation beneath his irrepressible charm.
Norman’s fortunes take an upturn after an ‘accidental” meeting with Micha Eshel, a visiting Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi); Norman’s gift of a rather expensive pair of shoes for the “deputy to the deputy” pays dividends three years later when Eshel becomes Israel’s Prime Minister and publicly acknowledges Norman’s kindness, which results in Norman’s being granted a level of importance (and access) that has thus far eluded him. It also sets Norman up for a humbling downfall, as favors and gifts from the past take on the appearance of bribery and corruption, tainting both Eshel and Norman, as well as Norman’s relations with the Jewish community (personified by Steve Buscemi’s compassionate Rabbi).
Joseph Cedar, who wrote and directed, keeps Norman the film moving nearly as much as Norman the character. He fills the movie with an ensemble of expert actors (among them Charlotte Gainsbourg as an unlikely confidant, Michael Sheen as Norman’s nephew and Josh Charles as a power broker) and a number of scenes that visually capture the swirling emotions and emotional fluctuations of the protagonist. Cedar also benefits from a dynamic performance from Gere as the driven, if delusional (and eventually enigmatic) Norman. However, one would like know more about what exactly makes Norman tick; we see him hustle and scrape, but there’s little evidence of how he turns these encounters into something with tangible results (given the episodic nature of the film). The filmmaker keeps Norman at perhaps too much a distance for us to fully engage, but there are many pleasures along the way, making Norman worth at least a look.
Writer-director James Gray departs from his dark tales of New York for the forests of South America in The Lost City of Z. It’s based on the true story of British soldier and explorer Percy Fawcett, who became obsessed with discovering an ancient lost city deep in the Amazon. At first Fawcett makes the trek at the behest of the British government, but after surviving ambushes and the vicissitudes of Mother Nature, he returns to England emboldened by his interactions with the natives, as well as the discovery of some ancient artifacts which suggest the existence of an advanced civilization.
Fawcett is obsessed with returning to the Amazon, despite the potential disrepair it would cause to home and family, and when another explorer offers his support—there’s nothing to stop him, perhaps not even a World War. Though Gray may not seem the obvious choice for an epic that spans years and continents, he brings an intensity to the filmmaking, conveying the wonder and the terrors of the journey—both natural and human. Gray’s script, aided by Charlie Hunnam’s fine, layered portrayal also makes Fawcett’s obsession somewhat understandable (if occasionally less than sympathetic). Sienna Miller enhances the role of the left-behind wife and mother with dignity and a bit of steel, while Robert Pattinson almost captures the acting honors as Fawcett’s right-hand man—and one who knows when enough is enough. The Lost City of Z depicts an ill-fated journey, but your trip to the multiplex might just yield some rewards.