Director: Joseph Cedar
Starring: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi and Michael Sheen
Release Date: Out Now
As the opening credits roll for Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, one witnesses companies, such as the Israeli state funded Jerusalem Film And Televison Fund, involved in the films production. The viewer could be forgiven for perceiving the proceeding story to be overtly political, or perhaps even propagandist, in its themes.
However, barring a few ill-conceived and vague references to “the conflict”, this is not the case.
The story opens with a borderline emaciated looking Norman Oppenheimer (Gere) begging his nephew, Philip Cohen (Sheen), to introduce him to the movers and shakers of the New York-Jewish business world. His proposition is that he can connect them with a Deputy Minister of the Israeli cabinet, in order to buy government shares at a very reasonable rate.
We gather quickly from Philips’ hesitancy to be named by Norman in these proposed meetings that perhaps his venture isn’t quite what it seems.
What transpires throughout the film is Norman essentially harassing, badgering and following any person he feels can assist him in climbing the greasy pole of the Big-Apple’s corporate world.
The majority of his advances are unceremoniously rejected but this does not dissuade him and in the case of Deputy Minister Micha Eshel, he actually wears him down to the point of submission. Norman pursues Eshel to an expensive tailor where he insists on purchasing 1,000 dollar shoes for the minister and the two exchange details.
Name dropping Eshel, Norman worms his way onto the guest list of a prominent Jewish business leader’s dinner, but when Eshel does not take Normans invitation, he is ejected from the premises. We fast forward three years later and Normans once deputy minister acquaintance is now the prime minister of Israel.
Eshel does not forget Norman though, and the down-and-out soon finds himself at the heart of geopolitical machinations of Israeli-US relations. Norman continues his strategy of making connections by constantly robbing- Peter-to-pay-Paul and playing people against others he does not actually know.
The film is exquisitely cast, with Gere delivering a sombre yet utterly convincing portrayal of an isolated and, at times, pathetic loner. His actions would test the patience of Job but the viewer still somehow roots for him and empathises with his every success and defeat.
Steve Buscemi as his Rabbi friend offers some humorous exchanges but it is the dynamic between Eshel and Norman that sustains the plot. Their friendship is derived of genuine compassion for one another, even when political and legal pressures threaten it. The standout sequence of the film is Norman attempting to balance three or four interdependent deals with impatient and, at times, belligerent third parties.
Pioneering editing techniques disrupt time and space, effectively positioning the viewer in the fragmented world of Norman. The film has an offbeat, quirky feel to it and at times evokes the mood of previous loner/outsider texts such as Taxi Driver.
Overall, an unconventional yet enjoyable affair.
Written by Cian O’ Donnell