A strong contender for longest title of the year is Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer. Director Joseph Cedar’s follow up to his Oscar nominated film Footnote strikes many similar chords to that previous effort with Norman sporting equal amounts comedy and compelling drama. Its truly stacked cast all lend their talents while headlined by Richard Gere in the title role. Over the last few years, the actor has quietly been giving some of the best performances of his career, and this one here might be the best of the bunch.
Just like Gere’s character in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind (Moverman was a producer on this one), Norman Oppenheimer is a down on his luck type but this time, with a drive for success that’s rivalled by none. The self-proclaimed business man goes around straight up stalking politicians and other big money types trying to get them to hook them into his money making schemes. He pretends to have all the connections, making empty promises to introduce them to other influential people who he’s never actually met.
Norman seems to have reached a new low when he purchases a pair of extremely expensive shoes for Israeli politician Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a gift the man is very touched to receive. When Eshel becomes Prime Minister three years later, the shoe gift immediately goes from blind recklessness to pure genius as Norman’s fortunes drastically change. Now schmoozing with the big boys and in way over his head, Norman attempts his most complicated business deal, one which that could very well have dire ramifications on an international scale.
Although Norman spends the entire film lying and scheming, often times failing in pathetic grand fashion, you root for him regardless because he possesses admirable qualities that are inherent in every single person who has ever chased a dream. His go for broke persistence leads to cringe inducing moments of embarrassment, like when he’s kicked out of Arthur Taub’s (Josh Charles) house and cheeky moments of humor like when he calls out to Bill Kavish (Dan Stevens), after hounding him in the park repeatedly to no avail: “So I’ll tell my partners we had a good conversation!” It’s crystal clear to see just how serious he takes his business dealings, the pride dripping off his fingers as he scribbles up a diagram of his methods in a fateful train ride with fellow passenger Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Norman also features a healthy deal of ingenuity that gives it some creative visual flair. Split screen sequences that fit together seamlessly in motion and mise-en-scene gloriously pop from the screen. They’re so niftily composed that it takes a second or two before you realize the action is taking place in separate spaces. An exhausting talking head montage meant to represent the staggering amount of people Norman networks with at an event, each person describing their respective jobs and connections, might go on for a bit too long, but it’s a perfect example of the amount of mental fortitude required of Norman now that he’s playing with the big boys.
It’s a wonder how the film draws you in while keeping the titular character’s true life and backstory completely enigmatic and mysterious. Norman is a fascinating example of character development. Even though very little information is provided as to his history or private life, following him through his day to day struggles out in the field gives enough sense of who he is that the circumstantial details cease to matter. The allusions to his possible poverty struck life, such as his numerous visits to the synagogue led by Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) where he chows down on their food, are just tiny pieces to this game that the narrative is playing with the audience. It’s only by the end of the film that you realize how little you know about Norman’s personal life and begin to question if anything you did learn was true or not. But at that point, it hardly matters, as the endearing Norman has already won you over.
Delving into the intricacies of friendships, the way a lie can spiral out of control and the dangers of mixing politics and business, Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer is a compellingly complex and playful take on the political thriller. Guided along by Richard Gere’s charming and nuanced performance, Joseph Cedar’s film is relatable to anyone who has ever felt the desire to make something of themselves and doubles as a warning for using dishonesty in achieving that goal.
A mesmerizing Richard Gere headlines this political thriller that's equal parts funny and cautionary tale.