A Jewish farce brimming with humanity is full of lessons and life. What else can be said about Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Downfall of a New York Fixer” could fill a Saul Bellow novel. See this film to watch napkin jottings of socio-grams  become high drama.

Richard Gere is Norman Oppenheimer, a little man to whom ” attention must be paid” Arthur Miller style. Gere inhabits the role of a jabbering wheeler-dealer as effortlessly as he has in more stereotyped cute lover roles. This is a great character study that reminds viewers not to be too judgmental. We have character growth and a transcending of self-actualization Maslow-style.

Cedar’s tale is structured into four acts: ” A Foot In The Door”, “The Right Horse” and ” Anonymous Donor”, and ” The Price of Peace”. Gere morphs before our eyes from “macher” into “mensch”. At first questions like, ” How much money could you make if you knew ” put us off. We see Norman flummoxed at the treatment he receives from affluent Mr. Town ( Josh Charles ). Isn’t he just trying to link people up and be appreciated for it ? His nephew played beautifully by Michael Sheen tells Norman that he is like a drowning man waving at an ocean liner. Norman optimistically replies with a smile, ” but I’m a good swimmer.” Good things come in surprising ways to be sure in this film.

Norman ingratiates a foreign diplomat by buying him an expensive pair of shoes, thus he gets ” a foot in the door”. The minister genuinely likes this “warm Jew” , and seems lonesome for friendship while in New York. Likewise, Norman is a lonely, but persistent worker. One of the most touching scenes has him going to the synagogue to open a jar of Manischewitz gefilte fish after he was thrown out of a “private dinner” party. The scene takes church cracker dipping to a new lonesome level.

The Israeli Cabinet Minister explains life circumstances with a Ferris wheel analogy: ” Sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down; but, once you are up, you can be satisfied with nothing less. Do you understand, Norman?”  Three years later, in our act two, Micha Eshel ( Lior Ashkenazi ) is Prime Minister of Israel. The film’s sub-themes of living a political life and the presses’ power give Ashkenazi’s talents a stage for some beautiful acting. His ” history is full of anonymous heroes” and ” will you forgive me” are tear producing. Power possessed has a price.

One of the most interesting foils to Norman is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. As a lawyer for the Justice Department, she is suspicious of Norman’s frequent attempts to connect her with someone he deems important. ” What do you need. I can get it for you.” sounds ominous to this serious legal wonk. Her pious ” I need the satisfaction of knowing I am doing good in the world.” becomes ironic and laughable at the picture’s end.

Norman is in every scene in his camel topcoat with his ear buds dangling and his leather shoulder bag filled with boxes of  red tube candy and business cards. He is a  nut job with a nut allergy. Rabbi Blumenthal ( Steve Buschemi ) adds another dimension to Norman’s limited circle of friends. He calls Norman a ” fucking wind bag” and kicks him into a mound of plastic trash bags in another ironic scene. ” Why do I get the feeling that nothing you tell me is real ?!”

Hank Azaria, Norman’s doppelgänger, may save his life. When he hands Norman a card like Norman’s own ( except for the name change ” Katz” instead of “Oppenheimer”),  even Norman recognizes that there are Normans everywhere in NYC. The word “shyster” has been up-ended in a most rewarding way.

This is not a film about “empty promises”, I promise. Even the credits are creative and thoughtfully done. Congratulations, Joseph Cedar!

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Christine Muller

Carrying a torch for film is what I have done for over forty years, thus the flambleau flamed when I was urged to start a blog. Saving suitcase loads of ticket stubs was no longer relevent so I had to change the game. Film has been important for me in the classroom and a respite for me outside of it. No other art form seems to edge the frayed seams of life as neatly as when a film is done well. I am happy that over one-hundred countries have citizens viewing my thoughts on Word Press, and a few leaving their own with me. Over thirteen hundred comments to date, and over three hundred films reviewed.

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