By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Who is Norman Oppenheimer? What exactly does he do and why? The title of this film labels Norman as a “New York Fixer,” and the amiable, but pushy character can help fix things, but his meddling eventually gets him into trouble. After all, this a rise and fall story and things get rather messy when Norman gets involved in the political arena. Writer/director Joseph Cedar’s fascinating and engrossing character study of a Jewish business matchmaker (so to speak) serves as light and breezy political satire with a dark conclusion.
Richard Gere stars as Oppenheimer, a New York consultant who constantly keeps his feet pounding the pavement and remains in the mix among the various facets of the Jewish community. One fateful day while walking his beat, Norman “runs into” up-and-coming Israeli politician Micha Eschel (Lior Aschkenazi). Norman’s easy going personality and tenacity wins over the politician, and a seemingly benign, but expensive gift to Eschel seals their “friendship.” Years pass, and the charismatic politician rises to the prestigious rank of Israeli Prime Minister. Eschel hasn’t forgotten his old friend Norman, though, and through their friendship, Norman makes other valuable business and political connections. With Norman’s hands in too many pots and the cut-throat nature of politics, his newfound successes turn out to be his undoing.
With Norman, Joseph Cedar has written and directed a film which explores a type of Jewish character not often seen on the big screen and also offers a biting commentary on the backstabbing ugliness that often comes with politics. The film starts off a tad slowly and awkwardly, much like some of the characters’ first meetings with Norman. Cedar’s film then flows with a jaunty pace and a somewhat buoyant tone that perfectly fits the title character’s cordial, but persistent personality. The character both charms and annoys a bit, but usually wins over people in the end. The character of a New York “fixer” is fascinating, simply because it often defies logic when it comes to his motivations, and Cedar often addresses this well in the story by having characters question his motivations and purpose. Oppenheimer is obviously a hustler who’s end game is to be socially involved with movers and shakers. A man who occasionally helps his community, but only because it keeps him busy and active. It is a somewhat entertaining, but ultimately sad portrait with a tragic ending.
Richard Gere delivers what is his finest performance in years. For an actor who has spent most of his career in romantic heartthrob roles, and who has managed to do so even as he reached his fifties, it is refreshing to see Gere do something atypical, do it tremendously well and seemingly with ease. Gere’s superb turn is essential to the success of this film and makes Cedar’s character development of Norman Oppenheimer complete. Gere uses his charisma and wit well, and even does a superb job of portraying Norman at his most vulnerable. Even though Richard Gere is the true star of the film, he has a wonderful supporting cast as well. Lior Ashkenazi delivers an enthralling turn as Micha Eschel, a highly likable politician, but one with weaknesses of his own and one who will do anything to stay on top. The film also features great acting by Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi and Harris Yulin.
Even though the summer movie season is arriving with blockbuster tent poles, this movie offers cinephiles a striking alternative to the usual summer fare. Norman may not exactly beg to be watched on the big screening, but its great writing, solid directing, and the superb performance by Gere make this an indie film that deserves much attention. Much like the main character who can be both endearing and seemingly unassuming, this little humble movie deserves some spotlight, but acts like it doesn’t.