An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Norman belongs to Richard Gere and his astonishing portrait of a New York City hustler. Add to that the rare sophistication of the filming and musical score created by director Joseph Cedar and his production team. In perfect collusion with the star, the musical background speaks for Norman when he is silent, almost as if the music is reading his mind.

Norman Oppenheimer appears to be without a home, family, or friends. He connives his way through life by plotting on park benches, on cocktail napkins in bars, and while wandering the streets of New York. The early scenes may test your patience while the film takes its time showing us that he has not one thing on his mind but his next victim. Who can he find to use? Hang in, because the last third of this movie is nothing less than brilliant.

Next victim? That would be Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) a good Israeli/politician/lawyer who is down on his luck at the moment. The two men meet by chance in New York in front of a shoe store window where Eshel finds an expensive pair of shoes he loves. Rifling through his head full of possible deals, Norman buys the shoes for Eshel as a gift. When Eshel becomes Prime Minister of Israel, Norman Oppenheimer is just a few steps behind. He pulls out his cocktail napkin diagram of contacts and worms his way into Israeli politics with all the ugly plans he designs as he goes. For a short while we watch Norman become a figure in the political intrigue of the new Prime Minister

We know that the hustler’s tools are boasting and exaggeration of what he can do. In an odd coincidence, this movie opens at the same time that respected banks and brokerage houses are making the headlines of the Wall Street Journal with their newly exposed hustling of their own customers. Access is the name of every hustler’s game.

What lifts this movie way beyond the ordinary is director Joseph Cedar’s skill in setting Richard Gere loose to wander through surroundings that are designed as an artful, musical painting while Gere delivers a superb, nearly silent performance of his own creation. He does all this against a unique and powerful background that has itself become a character in the story. He walks silently through streets and buildings while opening his mind for us to read. No words needed.

In an admirable portrait of a life built on artifice, the supporting cast is excellent. Credit Steve Buscemi as the Rabbi, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Alex, Dan Stevens as Bill Kavish among a large number who support the central player as he walks through a life of delusion. Joseph Cedar blends these actors with new technology to create a story about a fellow we can’t admire. Result: just try taking your eyes off the screen as Richard Gere turns an unpleasant story into a brilliant portrait of a loser.

Film Title : Norman
Word Count : 499
Running Time : 1:57
Rating : R
Date : April 30, 2017


The Lost City of Z

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is an intriguing movie that ignores conventional story line structure in favor of deep character studies of its principals. We are invited to watch real growth as each of them struggles to follow passion instead of conforming to the rules of English propriety in the early 1900s. Don’t look for a dramatic arc here, just enjoy watching these people grow.

Just the facts: in the early 1900s, Army soldier Percy Fawcett ( Charlie Hunnam) is chosen by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the jungle in Eastern Bolivia. The cloud hanging over the mission carries the message that no one has ever returned alive from going “up river.” Several countries are planning to explore this region for its black gold/oil. Fawcett is looking instead for the ancient civilization he believes is there and to get there, he must fight the bigotry of British Conservatives and the Church. “We have been so arrogant for centuries,” he says of them.

Fawcett, stuck in Army mediocrity because of his father’s alcoholism (yes, this is 1906), says “My reputation as a man rests entirely on our success.” In a finely written scene that is beautifully acted by Charlie Hunnan as Fawcett and Sienna Miller as his wife Nina, we understand both their mutual love and the depth of his need to grow by taking on this mission. He will be gone for three years.

That short scene tells us these two people are smart, strong, and independent – traits at the gut of their behavior throughout the story. Director/scriptwriter James Gray sends Fawcett off with his friend Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) to indulge those traits in three trips to the Amazon jungle against all odds. If his decision to go springs from who he is, that core also produces his ability to understand the natives he encounters.

What sets both Fawcett and Nina apart is a quality each has that lifts them above the stereotypical demands of their era that might have molded them differently. Even Fawcett couldn’t stamp out his wife’s need to explore the unknown. She does that in raising her children. He asks himself in the jungle, “What kind of a fool am I to leave my family for this place?” Nina understands her husband’s need to return three times to the unknown.

Director Gray has assembled a marvelous cast of military leaders to give us the flavor of acceptable behavior in early 1900s England. Against that background, the primary actors deliver the flavor of people motivated by an inner core. Robert Pattinson is superb as Fawcett’s quiet co-explorer who stays with Fawcett until he can’t. Angus Macfadyen creates the British villain who messes things up repeatedly.

We won’t forget the inner strength that led both Percy and Nina Fawcett to respect and understand the deep determination each would show throughout their lives as they made tough choices. And we might not see better acting for quite a while.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Lost City of Z
Word Count : 499
Running time: 2:21
Rating : PG-13
Date : 5 April 2017