NORMAN/THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER. US/Israel, 2016. Starring Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, Jonathan Avigdon, Yehuda Almagor, Hank Azariah, Harris Yulin, Josh Charles, Ann Dowd. Directed by Joseph Cedar. 118 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).
Who is Norman? He is Norman Oppenheimer, a street person of no fixed abode, always wearing an overcoat and cap, embodied perfectly by Richard Gere in one of his best performances.
We are first introduced to Norman chatting on a New York street with his nephew, Philip (Michael Sheen), talking about making contacts, financial enterprises, Norman jotting down names on a piece of paper, sketching in the links. A subtitle added to the film describes him: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.
Then he is seen pursuing a young man jogging, making all kinds of propositions, not even hearing the word “no” except that it seems to urge him on in his pursuit. Then he goes to a talk, a stage interview of an Israeli politician, and notes one of his assistants, Eshel (a good performance from Lior Ashkenazi). He follows him down the street, biding his time, helping him to window shop and take him into an expensive store and buys him shoes, the most expensive shoes. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship – as well as a tragic one.
Norman the fixer tries to link Eshel with a businessman but fails, going to visit his synagogue, comforted by the music, feeling at home there, though this is not his home.
The film is constructed in four Acts: A Foot in the Door, The Right Horse, Anonymous Doner, The Price of Peace. Three years after the initial events, Eshel is Prime Minister of Israel, visiting Washington, encounters Norman and embraces him, photographers flashing, his being introduced to celebrities, politicians, businesspeople.
Norman has the talent for ingratiating himself, but this is difficult with politicians, Eshel’s minders begin to refuse to take his calls. Norman has encountered Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) on the train from Washington to New York and finds that she is a top official in handling American criminals in Israel and Jewish criminals in New York. Ultimately, this seemingly friendly meeting, leads to the undoing of Norman and his plans.
At first, Norman is somewhat alienating for the audience, not believing for one minute his various stories and put off by the way that he follows people, makes the links, offers favours. He is definitely a conman, fixer, but, ultimately, with a heart of gold, the favours he seeks generally for the betterment of the people he wants to help.
There is also a complication with his nephew, Jewish, but wanting to marry a Korean and in need of some kind of religious preparation, which leads to the rabbi of Norman’s synagogue whose building is being acquired and her needs $14 million, Norman offering to assist, to purchase the building.
The film shows there are risks in do-goodiing, especially when one of the beneficiaries is the Prime Minister of Israel, wanting a piece program, being attacked by politicians (actually filmed in the Knesset) and her needs to survive, even to get a lucky bonanza.
Which means that Norman becomes a sacrifice, a self-sacrifice, for the love and the friendship of others.
The film was written and directed by Israeli, Joseph Cedar, his previous films, Beaufort and The Footnote are worth seeking out.
Beckett Films Released May 25th.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.