Israeli-American writer-director Joseph Cedar possesses an extraordinary gift for telling stories of men vying for prestige in cloistered worlds. Footnote, which was nominated for an Academy Award, drew intrigue and Kafkaesque humour from a scenario involving a father-son rivalry in the highly secluded realm of Talmudic scholarship. With Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Cedar’s wry gaze migrates to New York’s network of fixers, connectors, and middlemen. This absorbing character study stars Richard Gere (I’m Not There) as Norman Oppenheimer, a seasoned “macher”: a man who knows the right people and gets things done. Like a gambler or a thief, Norman’s position is more vocation than profession, a confidence game requiring luck and a kind of societal sleight of hand.
When an Israeli dignitary, Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi, Footnote), visits New York, Norman decides to make an impression by buying him some extremely expensive shoes. A gold-star connection is made, but three years later Eshel winds up becoming Israel’s prime minister and is suddenly hugely inaccessible. Norman’s circle begins asking him to write cheques he can no longer cash—and the fallout could destroy the reputation Norman has spent his life building.
Gorgeously photographed and infused with Cedar’s trademark poetics, Norman is a heady comic drama. Its supporting cast of Michael Sheen (Far from the Madding Crowd, Midnight in Paris), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi and Isaach De Bankolé (Calvary) all tread the boards in Cedar’s theatre of charisma. But this is ultimately Gere’s show. We watch him perform his magic and are also invited to peek behind the curtain. Gere is somehow simultaneously seductive, vulnerable, and enigmatic—a profoundly satisfying balancing act, in the role of a lifetime.
“Cedar impressively creates a complex and intricately detailed portrait of the web of political, financial, social and religious affiliations that has everything to do with how the world works… Gere presides over it all with an impressively self-effacing portrait of a man who, while you wouldn’t want to experience him in real life, remains fascinating onscreen from beginning to end.” (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter)
“What’s best about the film is how Cedar and Gere have dreamed up a character who’s equally desperate and preternaturally ingratiating.” (Tim Grierson, Screen International)