PLOT A well-meaning busybody ends up causing an Israeli political scandal.
CAST Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsbourg
RATED R (language)
BOTTOM LINE Gere delivers a moving performance as a little guy with too-big dreams.
Richard Gere plays Norman Oppenheimer, the warmhearted, fast-talking, slightly irritating hero of “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” He’s the guy who sits next to you on the train and never shuts up, who calls you late at night, who suddenly jogs next to you in the park. What does he want, this Norman? Why, he only wants to do something for you.
According to writer-director Joseph Cedar (2011’s Oscar-nominated “Footnote”), who was born in New York and raised in Israel, Norman is a modern-day version of the “court Jew.” Historically, he’s a figure who helps the rich and powerful, only to wind up discarded — or worse. One twist in this telling, though, is that it’s Norman’s own people who turn against him.
“Norman” begins with our hero “casually” bumping into Israeli politician Micha Eshel (an excellent Lior Ashkenazi) outside a Manhattan clothing boutique. Eshel is in a career slump, a deputy to a deputy, and he can’t even afford the shoes he’s trying on. Norman buys them as a gift — a pricey one, at $1,000 — and Eshel is deeply moved. It’s a gamble that pays off years later, when Eshel unexpectedly becomes prime minister and remembers Norman as “my dear friend.”
Suddenly, everybody wants Norman’s business card. Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) turns to him when his synagogue needs money. Fearsome financier Jo Wilf (Harris Yulin) now takes his calls. What Norman doesn’t know is that an investigator, Alex Green (Charlotte Gainsbourg), has connected him to a bribery scandal that could bring down Eshel. Norman doesn’t seem to understand that phone calls, favors and influence can add up to corruption. To him, it’s the stuff society is built on.
Gere is wonderful in a humble, all-too-human performance that turns this sometimes slight film, whose plot details can be sketchy, into something that feels rich and authentic. What does this Norman want? In the end, he’s just a nobody who wants to feel like somebody.