Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer 

Richard Gere gets in way over his head in this Israeli-American production

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The word "entrepreneur" has its roots in a French word that originally meant something like "go-between." By that definition, Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is a consummate entrepreneur. He runs the consulting firm Oppenheimer Strategies —rather, he is the consulting firm Oppenheimer Strategies. We first meet him, white iPhone earbuds in place, mapping out social connections on a Starbucks napkin. He's trying to land a $300 million deal for ...something. We're not quite sure what. And neither are any of the people he gets on the other end of the phone.

But Norman doesn't seem to get discouraged, even as door after door is slammed in his face. When his nephew Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen) describes contacting one of his billionaire targets, Jo Wilf (Harris Yulin), as "a drowning man waving to get the attention of an ocean liner," Norman replies that he is "a very good swimmer, as long as I have my head above water."

Norman's consulting business basically consists of his trying to bring people together — he even consults with other consultants, he brags. But the biggest problem is, he doesn't add much value to the deal. Whatever water he used to carry in New York is long dried up. Now, he's just an old widower living by his wits, waiting for his luck to run out.

click to enlarge Richard Gere plays the titular role in Joseph Cedar’s Norman.
  • Richard Gere plays the titular role in Joseph Cedar’s Norman.

But then, Norman is hit with one final stroke of luck. After talking his way into an international oil-and-gas exploration conference, he sets his sights on Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a Deputy Minister of Trade and Labor for the Israeli government who seems to be on the way out of government. The plan is to use Micha's name to get a foot in the door with billionaire Arthur Taub (Josh Charles) and to use Taub's name to get Micha's attention. Both parties think Norman is friends with the other party, and he plays the two off of each other for influence.

If this plot is sounding unbelievably convoluted to you, that means you've got a good handle on Norman (full title: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer). The film is at its best in the early stages, when Gere as Norman serves as a sort of tour guide through the corridors of elite New York wealth and power. People in fine suits are unfailingly cordial, until they sense that Norman is no use to them and throw him out. That all changes when, after a story break of three years, Micha's luck turns and he becomes Prime Minister of Israel. With a single warm hug at a state reception, people are giving Norman their card instead of the other way around. And that, of course, is when Norman gets himself in way over his head. What Norman thinks of as favors for an old friend, Israeli federal law enforcement officer Alex Green (Charlotte Gainsbourg) thinks of as illegal influence peddling.

Israeli-American writer/director Joseph Cedar has crafted a story that lies somewhere between The Manchurian Candidate and the Bill Murray/Richard Dreyfuss comedy What About Bob? His biggest directorial challenge is making scene after scene of Richard Gere talking on his omnipresent iPhone visually interesting, and he goes far beyond the conventional split screen by digitally blending the halls of power with whatever random Office Depot the borderline-destitute Norman happens to be drifting through at the moment. Gere, for his part, is at least taking the role seriously. He shares some crackerjack scenes with Steve Buscemi as a pugilistic rabbi and Hank Azaria as a younger hustler who latches onto Norman late in the proceedings. But still, none of that can overcome the fact that Norman is a fairly innocuous film. Its highs are not very high, its laughs never grow beyond a chuckle, and its lows leave you with a shrug rather than a tear. It's good to see original ideas and mature, politically sophisticated subject matter get a chance in contemporary Hollywood, but simple competence isn't enough to make Norman more than a passing curiosity.


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