Two Movies: Norman and King Arthur

For years “Richard Gere” was a name that indicated to me that I probably didn’t want to see a movie. He was a young heart-throb actor when I was in my late teens. Some swooning friends dragged me to see “An Officer and a Gentleman,” which I admit was not half as bad as I expected, but my friends carried on in a way that made me embarrassed to be female. That was the last I bothered to see a movie starring Richard Gere… until I saw “Hoax.” I went to see “Hoax” for no real reason beyond the urge to see a movie, any movie, and not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised by Gere’s performance. It was especially surprising given that so many older lead actors embarrass themselves by trying to hold onto action or romantic hero roles at an age that makes them seem like male Norma Desmonds. Gere, on the other hand, has been willing to take on roles that are unglamorous.

It’s really hard to get less glamorous than the main character in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” Seeing that we’re virtually drowning in movies that take place in overblown fantasy worlds with superheroes and other over-the-top characters, it’s refreshing to see a drama that takes place in the real world. It’s not a boring, slow-moving, slice of life picture, either. The stakes are high enough to generate real tension. There’s a side of me that I really wanted it to be a great picture. However, it’s only a good picture.

If I understand correctly, “fixer” is the closest English equivalent to the Yiddish word “macher.”

“Its kind of network has no head, only a nerve center: the mediator, the macher. He has to touch all the various bases one after the other — engineers, officials, government leaders — in order to oil the creaking wheels of the mechanism, both large and small.” (source)

However, Norman isn’t truly a fixer, but he’d like to be one. He’s mostly a failure and, as such, he is simultaneously annoying and poignant. The main weakness in the movie, to my mind, was that the plot was not quite believable enough for a realistic movie. Norman befriends an Israeli politician. I didn’t entirely buy the relationship between the two main characters. An extra scene or two to establish a stronger relationship between them would have helped. Also, the politician, Michal Eshel, played by Lior Ashkenazi, didn’t seem ruthless enough to rise to the level he does. These feel like quibbles, but they do keep the movie from being great.

The acting is wonderful throughout, but I really want to mention Michael Sheen, an actor who hasn’t really been on my radar. I recognized the face but couldn’t put a name to it. He plays Norman’s nephew, who both cares about his uncle and is embarrassed by him. He simultaneously tries to look out for him and distance himself from him. It was a complicated set of emotions and motivations to play and Sheen does a fabulous, subtle job. Sometimes actors get too much credit for over-the-top performances and the more naturalistic ones get overlooked.

While the movie isn’t great, it is good. It feels original, which makes it worth seeing.

The other movie I saw this week was “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and let me tell you it sucked. First of all, I’ve never heard of the lead actor Charlie Hunnam and I hope I never hear of him again. Hunnam seemed too old for the character he was playing. By coincidence, Gere was also in a bad King Arthur picture once upon a time. The director of Gere’s picture, “First Knight” said:

“The thing about First Knight, for anybody who’s actually into the Arthur legend, it’s probably ludicrous, because we didn’t actually pay any attention to it, other than the names of the characters, and Camelot, and the idea of knights of the Round Table stuff.” (source)

Hmmm….. the same could be said of “King Arthur.” The director, Guy Ritchie, seems to be clueless as to why the Arthur legend has been so compelling for so many people. Even the sci-fi comic book, “Camelot 3000,” with aliens and a lesbian Sir Tristan, seemed more in the spirit than this overblown nonsense.

Jude Law makes a depressing contrast with Gere. If Gere has become a better actor over time, Law seems determined to go in the other direction, from being a serious actor to a dreadful hack. It’s disappointing because I’ve really enjoyed Law’s performances in the past.

It just makes it seem worse that it must have been an expensive movie to make. It was a massive waste of money. Don’t waste your time.

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