Every New Yorker has a little Norman in them. Richard Gere, giving his best performance in decades, marches around the city in his tan coat and gray cap, maybe making a fool of himself, or maybe he’s the most brilliant mind the business world has ever seen. It’s hard to tell, and this ambiguity about the character is what makes “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” so compelling.
When we first meet Norman Oppenheimer he’s down on his luck, begging his modestly successful nephew (Michael Sheen) for an “in” to present an investment idea to some muckety-mucks. Opportunity of a sort soon comes when he shells out serious dough on a pair of stylish shoes for an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi) on the rise. Is Norman only looking after his self-interest, or does he actually enjoy doing nice things for people? It’s a question he himself doesn’t know, but an unending carousel of handshakes, chits and favors is what drives him and this dizzying fable.
After a series of lucky breaks (or was it planned all along?) Norman finds himself at a nexus between New York’s Jewish business elite and the Israeli government. Writer-director Joseph Cedar (an Israeli who spent many of his formative years in the city) nails the idealized vision each group has of the other in subtle visual ways. Much of this film, on the face of it, is just Richard Gere marching around midtown making phone calls, but it dials-up to a bravura conclusion thanks to Cedar’s sharp eye.
Supporting turns from Steve Buscemi as an unflappable Rabbi and Hank Azaria as a “fixer-in-training” make this something of a minor New York masterpiece. That, plus seeing Richard Gere eat pickled herring in the basement of an Upper West Side synagogue.