Two films starring Richard Gere coming out on the same weekend - what a treat! The first was The Dinner, directed by Oren Moverman, based on the critically acclaimed (I couldn’t finish it) Dutch novel by Herman Koch. The setting is an extremely high brow restaurant, the kind where it takes four months to get a reservation. A special dinner is taking place. There are two couples, Paul (the Brit generally comedic Steve Coogan in a dramatic role and convincingly American) and Claire (Laura Linney). The other couple is Stan (Richard Gere) and Kate (Rebecca Hall). Why such an opulent resto? It is, after all, an opportunity for the acerbic Paul to make fun of elite dining. And Stan (Gere), his brother, is an elite politician now running for governor, another object of mockery. But they have gathered to discuss how to handle a very serious crime, committed by the couples’ sons. Much of the film doesn’t have anything to do with the crime, with flashbacks to earlier periods when Stan, presumably manic-depressive, falls into deep emotional holes. As well, a high school history teacher, Stan’s obsessed with wars, the tens of millions who’ve died in them, and the Civil War particularly (there are scenes when Paul and Stan tour Gettysburg.) Gere’s Stan, by contrast, is restrained and the consummate Clintonesque politician, who essentially plays a calming second fiddle to the eruptive Paul. After almost two hours the nub of the picture reveals itself: an issue of morality. Two characters take one side, and the third, and possibly the fourth, take another. Morality, whether in the macrocosm of war or the microcosm of an horrific small crime – with “love” a motivating factor - has its voices on both sides.
The second film was Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar), an Israeli - US co-production, where Gere plays a shadowy character, Norman Oppenheimer, whose supposed occupation (his firm deals in “strategies” and “consulting”) is to ingratiate his way into certain elite circles and bring together powerful people for mutual benefit. Such as a soon-to-be Israeli prime minister (Lior Askenazi in a brilliant performance), whom Oppenheimer befriends on a state visit, buys him a pair of $1000 shoes, the first of numerous “favors.” The indefatigable Norman spends the bulk of his time walking Manhattan’s streets, constantly on his phone (and it’s winter, despite the movie poster’s absurd summer image), in coffee shops, or eating his pickled herring dinner out of a jar. Like another fraudulent Jewish part-philanthropist of a decade ago, Bernie Madoff, Oppenheimer seeks to create win-wins for the national and international Jewish community, often undeservingly earning their trust. Gere is terrific as the low key both mensch and schlemiel. The jazz soundtrack by Jun Miyake punctuates the intriguing playful mystery of the plot, and indeed there are similarities in Gere’s character to Peter Sellers’ Chauncey Gardiner in Hal Ashby’s 1979 Being There. The problem is the film never tells us how Norman cultivates his strategies - legally or illegally – to get deals done. Moreover, Oppenheimer is poor as a church mouse, so what’s in it for him? But the film, well-paced, extremely well-acted, and convincingly set among top echelons of power, with US and Israeli settings, is a treat.