Everyone knows a Norman.
It is the man or woman who knows practically everybody (“I know him. My nephew knows him. My wife used to babysit him.”) but no one knows what he or she actually does. This is the dilemma of those in the circle of Norman Oppenheimer, a New York City fixer also known as the ‘man who has a good friend who knows this one person he would be happy to introduce you to’ in director/writer Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.”
Cedar, a New York-born Israeli filmmaker, presents his vision of a Norman through the flawless, electric Richard Gere, playing against his leading man archetype and pulling off a very convincing if practically perfect Jew. Cedar’s script is smart and quite fascinating in its reach of themes, but Gere’s just as quick to keep the material a consistent shade of amusing as well as effectively commentary.
Norman carries a small tin of business cards each with the heading, “Oppenheimer Strategies.” His first act of business seen is trying to set up a string of connections through a young, savvy rabbi Bill Kavish (Dan Stevens) jogging through a snowy Central Park.
Things spice up when Norman charismatically introduces himself to Micha Eshel beautifully played by Israeli screen and stage actor Lior Ashkenazi. Quick to seize the networking opportunity, Norman offers to buy Eshel “the most expensive pair of shoes in New York,” and Eshel, at first reluctant, agrees after Norman works his signature mode of dual charm and persuasion. The gesture cements a bond Eshel remembers when he’s elected Prime Minister of Israel three years later.
Standing in a receiving line, Norman wonders if Eshel will recognize him as the man responsible for the purchase of the same shoes he’s wearing. Norman fidgets, nervous for the fixes all aligning like webs before his scurrying gaze. Eshel spots him. There’s a beat. Then Eshel, eyes wide with delight, exclaims, “Norman, my friend!”
It sparks a relief for all the investments made in trying to keep up with Norman’s line of work – watching it all makes one as breathless as Norman when he gets a whiff of peanuts. In Norman’s somewhat-superficial circle are reliable connections who take advantage of him and vice versa. At one point, what comes out of his mouth cannot be discerned as truth or fabrication, and his efforts produce surprising ripple effects that cross the Atlantic into Israeli parliament.
Norman’s arrangements reveal hidden patches of his mysterious personal life and the true intentions of those he consults and befriends. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Alex Green gently, albeit straightforwardly, pulls the curtain back on Norman the man, and from there it is a matter of time until the truth eclipses the farce in his fixings.
Notable performances include Michael Sheen’s Philip Cohen and Steve Buscemi’s Rabbi Blumenthal both of whom ground Norman’s affairs in concrete examples of New York’s Jewish community.
Cedar bookends this cinematic love letter to Manhattan with enough unexpectedness that Norman’s business transactions come off sincere and appear to be from a personal agenda for an admirable social standing. It is only suitable Cedar ends Norman’s story with him on the other side of the “fixer” fence in dark yet peaceful satisfaction from the relationships he has reaped.
Written by Emilie Kefalas.