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Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Israel/USA 2016
Directed by Joseph Cedar
Running time 118 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is a freelance "consultant" on the Manhattan Jewish scene who inveigles his way into the good books of a visiting Israeli politician, Mischa Eschel (Lior Ashkenazi). Three years later, when Eschel has become the Israeli Prime Minister, Norman thinks his time has come.  Which it has, just not in the way that he would have wished.

Norman Oppenheimer is what is known in Yiddish as a ‘macher’ or deal-maker who, to use a metaphor that pops up a few times in the course of the story, swims the waters of backroom politics and high finance hooking up people who may be of use to each other and taking his percentage in money or kind.  With Norman however it’s not the pay-off that motivates him but rather the validation of his often completely fabricated self-image as a player. As we see in a scene with a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) he meets on a train, what the deal is isn’t as important as the fact that he’s making it. His compulsive attachment to the role is revealed most clearly in another scene when he Is approached by a down-market version of himself (played by Hank Azaria). Like all addicts Norman has a moment of clarity in which he sees the delusional nature of his "consultant" persona but with practiced skill he quickly brushes the truth aside and resumes his mission,

Had this film been penned by the Coens, which it could have been, it would have been a tightly plotted, absurdist comedy but writer-director Joseph Cedar, as with his previous and Oscar-nominated film Footnote (2011) takes a more intellectual, oblique approach. Indeed the film is more about Jewishness, at least in its secularized form, than it is about the specifics of the plot. Whether it is the well-to-do Manhattan diaspora or the warring factions in the Israeli parliament Cedar probes the mores and manners of this world with almost ethnographic interest.

Although this at times can feel like a little too much information Cedar leavens proceedings with his against-the-grain casting. Most of the main roles are played by non-Jews - Gainsbourg as an Israeli government employee, Michael Sheen as Norman’s nephew, Steve Buscemi as a rabbi. It is however Richard Gere who vitalizes the film. We are used to seeing the actor play well-heeled WASP characters like his stockbroker character in Arbitrage (2011). But here in a miracle of transformation Gere becomes Norman, invariably clad in his camel hair coat and flat cap, his protruding ears and shock of white hair falling across his forehead, permanently on his cellphone telling lie after lie in order to schmooze his way to his next deal, indefatigably up-tempo, desperate to be useful and liked. It’s a remarkable performance, probably the best of Gere’s career.

If you're in the mood for chess rather backgammon Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer should do the trick  If you want to kick a ball, look elsewhere.

 

 

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