Dir.: Joseph Cedar; Cast: Richard Gere, Michael Sheen, Lior Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsborough, Steve Buscemi, Josh Charles; USA 2016, 118 min.
Director/writer Joseph Cedar (Footnote) works hard to avoid the usual clichés in this fresh and amusing portrait of the eternal loser Norman Oppenheimer – full title Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. But his latest feature suffers from too many narrative strands to keep the audience entertained for two hours.
Norman is played by Gere, in fine form, and sees himself as a financial fixer in the Jewish world of New York – unfortunately, he is just a man with a dodgy past and a string of failures in his current trials and tribulations. Nephew Philip Cohen (Sheen) tries his best to keep Norman’s feet on the ground, but he’s a man with his eye to the main chance – which is always just around the corner. Norman invents a dead wife and a daughter to gain the community’s sympathy, but on the up-side, he’s never mean-spirited. When he meets the Israeli politician Micha Eshel (Ashkenazi), he tries to impress him with his connections, and Eshel, who does not know how insignificant these business contacts are, gives Norman the lions-share of his time. In return, Norman blows his budget on a gift of designer shoes for Eshel, who is a man without scruples, becoming Prime Minister of Israel and going all-out for a peace mission with the Arab world. But he still remembers Norman’s kindness when visiting New York, and for once, Oppenheimer is the toast of the town. But soon Eshel gets into a bribery scandal, and to save his career, he has to sacrifice Norman.
There are fine character performances here: Steve Buscemi does Rabbi Blumenthal, who uses Norman’s new found popularity to involve him in a donation scheme to save the synagogue – but quickly drops him, when his connections with Eshel become a liability; Charlotte Gainsborough’s Alex Green, an Israeli agent, who tries to bring Eshel down with notes about connections drawn up by Norman – total fabrications, just to impress her. Arthur Taub is a coldblooded host, who literally throws Norman out after he gate-crashes his party.
Norman struggles against the tide of life, and he has our sympathy. DoP Yaron Scharf (who worked with Cedar on Footnote) crafts a harsh world with his brilliant camerawork. Gere is terrific, a big fish in his small world of sharks waiting to pounce. With some cuts and a little structuring this could have been a great film, but it is still worthwhile. AS
NORMAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 JUNE 2017