Directed by Joseph Cedar.
Starring Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
From the outside, Norman Oppenheim (Richard Gere) looks like an eccentric businessman. But the truth is that he dreams up schemes that come to nothing, so he tries to be everybody’s friend, and doesn’t succeed at that either. Until he strikes up an unexpected friendship with an Israeli politician, one that brings him the attention and respect he craves. And one that encourages him to broker a series of deals that eventually start a political crisis ……
Let’s give the film its full title – Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. It’s no surprise that the distributors went for the one word title, but the longer version gives you a better idea of what the film is about. Sort of. Because the Norman of the title isn’t really a fixer: it’s what he desperately wants to be, but never gets close.
Joseph Cedar’s first film in the English language is a modern comic character study shot through with melancholy to the point of tragedy, about a deeply lonely man who needs the company of others. He’s desperate to play a part in their lives. To matter. Nobody knows where Norman lives, and that includes the audience: he constantly wanders around the streets of New York, carrying his office in his briefcase and talking on his mobile. He’s trying to bring people together to broker deals, but is reduced to following his targets around in the hope of merely speaking to them. The first one we see is Bill Kavish (Dan Stevens), on his morning run in the park, with Norman shuffling along behind him and, inevitably, getting the brush off. Watch our exclusive clip here. But it doesn’t matter how many times it happens, he’s still the eternal optimist, convinced that “something good will happen.”
He lives in a fantasy world that, to him, is completely real. So the rabbi and everybody else at his synagogue believe him when he says he can find a donor to save the building. And there are flights of imagination in the film, sometimes in his head, where he’s talking on the phone and the other person is sharing the screen with him, but in a totally different setting. One that Norman can’t see. It gives the movie an awkward, stagey feel which undermines its attempt to show the gulf between Norman and the people he considers part of his network.
His motives aren’t malevolent, but his grand schemes always come to nothing, not just letting people down but losing them money. No wonder they run away when they see him coming. Yet for the audience, he’s all too easy to forgive, and when success – all thanks to a well-tailored pair of shoes – comes calling, it brings hope and smiles. Yet it’s all too brief and marks the start of his downfall – all because of his need human contact. It’s probably one of the best things Richard Gere has ever done: you become so absorbed in the character he’s created that you forget you’re watching him acting. And, while he’s ably supported by the likes of Steve Buscemi and Michael Sheen as his long suffering, but permanently embarrassed nephew, the film really belongs to Gere, who is hardly ever off the screen.
Humour and heartbreak run through the film in equal measure, but it also poses the question about the legacy we leave after we’re gone. Surprisingly, Norman has one of his own, despite all his bungled efforts. But who will know?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★