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Norman

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Norman

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

 

Patriots Day

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Patriots Day

However you feel about the details of Patriots Day, chances are you will leave the theater in a state of high tension. Writer/director Peter Berg, with co-writer Matt Cook and producer/actor Mark Wahlberg have resisted the temptation to spend excessive footage on personal stories. This gives us two wrenching hours of unrelenting violence that deliver the reality of what racers and spectators must have experienced during the Boston marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. The good side of that is that we are fed the truth of the tragedy without fictional additives; the tough side is imagining its effect on the people of Boston.

Let’s take a look at that. Three died and 264 were wounded on that day just four years ago. Is it too soon to fictionalize the tragedy that hurt so many? What about the resentment at Hollywood profiting from their pain? What about the thousands of innocent Muslim American citizens buffeted again by the actions of two? Then there is the ease with which two young terrorists destroyed so many and so much in just a few minutes. Will that be contagious?

The truth of it is that the movie is so accurate, so well made, and so authentic that these questions fade next to the importance of showing the public the awful cost of a terrorist act.

On a bright April day, hundreds of runners and thousands of spectators jammed the streets and sidewalks of Boston for the race so many have enjoyed for so long. On that festive day the lives of many were shattered when the brothers Tamerian (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) Tsarnaev carried homemade bombs in their backpacks and planted them to explode twelve minutes apart. Next stop was to be Times Square.

With a fine cast (Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Mark Wahlberg, and J.K. Simmons – among many others), the movie shows us the explosions, the injuries, the deaths, and the shock. After some initial resentment, the Boston police and the FBI work together in the search for the brothers. That search is punctured by more violence after the brothers are identified on film. The search is riveting.

A Chinese man named Dun (Jimmy O. Yang) is hijacked by the brothers while sitting in his car, escapes, and helps the police close in. But in the sudden chaos of a crowd of lawmen trying to cooperate in a crisis, confusion reigns, tempers flare, mistakes are made. Mark Wahlberg, on site as producer and actor, is a native Bostonian who was determined the picture be accurate. The takeaway chill: a beautifully acted interrogation by a female federal investigator of the terrorist’s wife. Dressed as a Muslim, she draws this from the wife: “The life of a Muslim wife is duality, strength, and submission.”

Patriots Day is a harsh warning that our country is no longer immune to terrorism. This movie serves as the salute Boston deserves for the way they handled that day.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Patriots Day
Word Count : 501
Running time: 2:13
Rating : R