Richard Gere is like a good cheese. As he gets older, he keeps getting better. With every new role, his work becomes more interesting, just like the taste of a high-end Gruyere or Gouda allowed to age in peace.
Gere, now silver-haired and bespectacled, stars in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer and The Dinner. We all enjoyed him in Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts and even in Shall We Dance with Jennifer Lopez. But the word “interesting” didn’t necessarily come to mind as he flirted his way through a slew of romantic comedies. So it is a revelation to see him shine, at age 67, in roles that stayed with me long after I watched those two independent films.
This run has been going on for five years. Gere was really good in Arbitrage (2012) and Time Out of Mind (2014). His latest performances are so compelling, I suggest forgetting his activism, politics, and religion. I mean, a man who manages to upset the Chinese, the Israelis, and the American left is probably doing something interesting. But for now, just watch him act.
Norman is a neurotic, unlikable “fixer” in New York. Picture an even more intense, much better looking version of Woody Allen. We learn little about his character’s back story. It’s not clear exactly what he does as he walks the streets of Manhattan, talking on the phone, making unwanted introductions, and bullying members of the financial and political elites into including him.
Like so many New Yorkers, Norman is lonely. Surrounded by crowds and voices, he appears stuck in isolation. But when he manages to lure a visiting Israeli government minister into a high-end store to buy the Israeli a pair of shoes worth more than $1,000, his luck improves as the plot expands. While it is not always clear where Norman’s everyday reality ends and his dreams of grandeur begin, he enjoys that moment in the spotlight.
The story moves to Israel and Washington, before returning to New York. Remarkably, all these places and their local characters come across as genuine and real. Joseph Cedar wrote and directed a perfectly paced, deeply felt screenplay. Rarely has a small, talky movie sucked me in with such force.
Cedar was born in New York and raised in Jerusalem. His previous films have all been Jewish-themed. No wonder his pitch is magnificent, as he directs Gere, as well as the always strong Steve Buscemi, who portrays Norman’s rabbi, and the compelling Anglo-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg as a prosecutor. Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi is frighteningly good as Eshel, the up-and-coming politico and recipient of the $1,000 shoes.
A Zen Buddhist with an easygoing demeanor in person, Gere is known as a critic of Israel. That made his recent visit to the country for the film’s premiere a dilemma, he said in the press. While rejecting “violent extremist factions on either side,” as he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he took on the West Bank settlements: “This occupation is destroying everyone.” Still, despite pressure from progressive friends, Gere rejected the boycott of Israel. He has embraced a very Jewish film, illuminating the complexities of a New York Jew with finesse and showing up, to the delight of the Jerusalem audience.
When I told an editor of this publication about Gere’s recent work, she seemed relieved to learn he was still alive. Some movie-loving friends, too, wondered what had happened to the former sex symbol. Gere has recently said his support for Tibet and criticism of the Chinese government has cost him parts in big-studio films. China is becoming a production hotbed for Hollywood. Gere is outspoken, which is hurting him. “There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him,’” he told the Hollywood Reporter.
I think it is a good thing. Gere is now forced to choose smaller, interesting projects. For another example of his late career renaissance, see his part in The Dinner. It saddens me, as a Dutchman, to say this movie is not great. We now have three so-so attempts to turn this psychological thriller into film, after the Dutch and Italians tried it, too. I suggest reading the book. The powerful novel with the same title, written by my compatriot Herman Koch, was flawlessly translated into English by Sam Garrett.
The film may be shaky, but Gere is superb as a politician named Stan, self-consciously posing for selfies while he and his much younger wife, Barbara, meet his brother Paul and wife, Claire, for a tense dinner in one of those silly, expensive, haute cuisine restaurants. Once again, Gere is surrounded by an incredible cast, which makes the uneven quality of this Owen Moverman picture even more puzzling. Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, and Steve Coogan are masterful. But Gere draws the spotlight. He radiates charm — still — but also power, as he and his brother try to figure how to handle a terrible secret about their children.
I hope Gere fans didn’t mind the cheese comparison. No offense was intended. The Dutch regard few things as highly as a fine cheese. I could have picked wine, of course. Either way, this actor manages to turn experience into wisdom and sophistication. At an age when many retire, Gere uses age as a super power. Other older, once-great actors like Robert De Niro are drifting into oblivion by way of big-screen humiliations like Little Fockers. So it is heartening to see Richard Gere peak again, 35 years after An Officer and a Gentleman.