- Gareth Crook
Norman, The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016)
We start here with Michael Sheen and Richard Gere chatting on a cold New York day. Philip Cohen (Sheen) is helping Norman Oppenheimer (Gere), albeit reluctantly. Norman you see is trying to make a deal, ‘to put my guy in a room with your guy’. I like Norman, he’s a persistent sod, but he’s a warm nature. It’s a delicate film, filled with subtle intrigue. Norman moves in political circles. The outskirts of the circles. Right outside the circle, trying to get in. He talks the talk, but doesn’t seem to quite win people over. It’s not always a very exciting world truth be told and watching Norman falter as his confidence makes way for awkwardness can be quite difficult and frustrating. You’ve a feeling that he’s forever destined to be kept out in the cold. He’s trying to befriend Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenzai), an Israeli politician in the energy sector visiting New York. I don’t think Norman knows or cares much about energy. He’s simply hoping to be able to hook one influencer up with another, in this case Eshel with Taub (Josh Charles), in the hope that something good will happen and he’ll get the recognition for making it happen. He’s a fixer, as the wordy title details. In fact the title does pretty much some this up. Gere is good, he makes the most of what is a pretty thin premise and he’s in pretty much every minute of this. It’s a slog in places though. However his efforts have potential. Norman does know what he’s doing and as Eshel’s career flourishes all the way to PM of Israel, well the smile on Norman’s face is delightful. It’s a one step forward, two steps back sort of story though. Steve Buscemi pops up as Rabbi Blumenthal and Charlotte Gainsbourg too, my hopes are restored. It’s fleeting though and those hopes are dashed. For Norman too, y’see in befriending some, he climbs the ladder, but in the case of Alex Green (Gainsbourg) he’s footing on that ladder seems a little unsure. You’ll notice a theme, there’s a lot of jewish folks. It is very jewish without being, that’s to say it’s only the social side, even with the Rabbi, there’s very little religion, apart from saving a synagogue. That I guess is because this is Norman’s focus, he’s a social butterfly, he’s just turned it into a job of sorts. His world is rather vague though. He has no office, we never see him at home. You’d almost assume he had no home if he didn’t look so well put together. He appears to live out of his ever present satchel. This world in which he moves of players, could be seen as problematic though couldn’t it. It’s a well known conspiracy that Jews rule the world via some clandestine secret organisation. Bollocks of course, but shown stories like this, you can see how idiots jump to conclusions. Veiled antisemitism, like the kind where people assume that all Jews are rich. I myself heard this just the other day, slipped into polite conversation, from someone perfectly... nice, just with this stereotype planted in his head. It’s all complicated and not something this film gets into, but I still wanted to mention it. Anyway back to Norman. My god can his life get complicated. Amazingly so for one bloke and an iPhone. Trying to juggle Prime Ministers, Rabbis, a board of governors at synagogues and Harvard. You know what, it’s oddly compelling viewing. I’ve gotta give it to Gere, he does a great job, finding just the right balance. Capturing Norman’s venerability, intricacies, naivety and most of all heart. “Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down” says Eshel. Very true and this rides that balance. It’s good, in a round about way.