Richard Gere’s onscreen persona attains a state of purity when he stars in melodramas. Movies like Intersection and Unfaithful perfectly suit his tendency toward abstract trances, when his characters hesitate and question their code of morals. Cameras warmly appraise his appearance and then zoom in on his handsome face. That charismatic aura is largely absent in Joseph Cedar’s Norman, though. Gere appears before us with his shock of white hair and turns his soul into paper until it’s gossamer-thin. The actor disappears inside Norman Oppenheimer’s skin as he’s written, but Norman the man seems to not really exist. Cedar doesn’t show us Norman’s apartment or his office. Nor does he show a wife or children, or flashbacks of any past at all. Norman loves his synagogue and making business connections, but it’s not entirely clear why he does what he does. He may want a seat at the table, to be seen as a player. But the director withholds so much personal information that we watch someone slowly vanish instead of gaining psychic weight. When this empty shell meets Charlotte Gainsbourg on a late night train, Cedar all but places a sharpened scythe in her hands. She’s Norman’s angel of death, and she’s not going home empty-handed.
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Opens Friday at the Clay Theatre.