Film

Richard Gere Shrinks Down to Shlemiel Size for “Norman,” Another New York Story

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The back end of some future film festival’s Complete Richard Gere Retrospective won’t be lacking for fascinating surprises. Like Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind (2015), a pained study of homelessness, Joseph Cedar’s Norman finds Gere as a lost soul haunting a Manhattan that just doesn’t see him. What other movie star diminishes himself, seeks to play the guy you don’t notice?

As Sinatra might have it, Gere’s Norman is a puppet/pauper/pawn trying to glad-hand his way into being a king. He’s a pushy, cheery, full-of-shit shlemiel who pesters the assistants to wealthy men with can’t-miss investment opportunities and has, so far as the audience can tell, no home life, source of income, or sense of whether he’s lying or not.

Gere jabbers amusingly, and there’s something touching in his Norman’s persistence. Early on, he puts the touch on an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi), doing the man a favor in order to get his help pulling off an unobtainable deal; three years later, that pol’s the PM — and he appreciates all that Norman has done for him. Forever on the make, Norman, of course, attempts to leverage this connection, over-promising what he can deliver to a rabbi (Steve Buscemi!) whose synagogue is facing eviction — and inadvertently triggering a scandal. Cedar wittily lays out this network of lies and exaggerations, split-screening phone calls and freezing the crowd at the biggest moment of Norman’s career. But that career is curiously vague, as is the nature of Norman’s favors and friendship with the prime minister. So is Norman himself: For half of the running time, I worried he might secretly be homeless — or that the prime minister might be his imagination.

Norman

Written and directed by Joseph Cedar

Sony Pictures Classics

Opens April 14