The moderate rise and tragic downfall of a New York fixer…
We all know one. It’s a distant acquaintance or an awkward relative, always attentive to your needs and constantly trying to set you up with people they know. Weather it be in the business or love market they know exactly the right person you should meet; “You don’t know X? Oh he’s a fantastic, wonderful, person! We’ve got to get you two together, how about lunch Tuesday?”
Joseph Cedar’s new and first English language film Norman (the moderate rise and tragic fall of a New York fixer) follows one of these people. Norman Openheimer, played by a very convincing Richard Gere – who’s acting seems to improve as his carrier advances – waddles around New York from Starbucks to shopping malls to park benches with no real home, no real office and no other purpose than setting up meetings between people of influence. Always on the phone, pleading, begging, manipulating, lying or name dropping he will go to no end in order to penetrate the circles of power of the Jewish community in New York. It seems it is his only source of pride or else the only way he knows how to gain recognition. The first sentiment the spectatorship will have towards him is of pity. As his nephew (Michael Sheen) keeps reminding him his position is more often one of a “drowning man waving at an ocean liner.” Always trying to create interest in people who have none for him he feels the need to value himself through his connections.
Nevertheless, one day, Norman finally bets on “the good horse” as he plans a financial scheme to flip the Israeli debt. He stalks an Israeli deputy minister after a conference in New York, starts talking to him in the shoe shop he followed him to and ends up buying him an expensive pair of shoes. The Israeli seems very touched by this demonstration of what he naively thinks is affection and, some years later, when he becomes by some turn of fate, the Prime Minister of Israel, Norman gets his foot in the door. As everybody sees him at a conference in New York beside the prime minister he becomes the centre of attention. Unfortunately, Norman’s loud mouth and bragging about the people he knows to any stranger he happens to converse with will get him into an international politics conundrum he is no match for.
In the length of a film not only does Cedar manages to elaborate a very intricate plot but he also manages to depict very real and amusing characters. The dynamics that regulate the relationship between the characters and are at the source of Norman’s tragedy are intimately felt. When a person’s job is friendship, it is always hard to know where to draw the line. In truth the transaction should be very clear; we need a fixer to meet someone, they need you to feel empowered by the name dropping. But the way Norman operates feels quite genuine. He constantly says he want to help, as a friend would, but his help is actually a disguised favour. The only thing is, he is only half conscious of it. To some people he will be a useful acquaintance, to most, all he will ever be is the bridge people trample on to get together.
Cedar picks out a fascinating protagonist and archetype but who is drive remains a mystery to us. We see how he works, why it fails but his history remains cryptic. Why does he lie? Does he really have a daughter? Why does he do what he does? Are all unanswered questions I would have loved to seen answered. But then again do we take time to ask these questions to the Normans of our world?
The film hits theaters this Friday.