Within moments of meeting a woman on a train, Norman Oppenheimer offers—unsolicited— to introduce her to three prominent people. That’s how Norman operates: he’s a “fixer,” a seemingly well-connected New Yorker who fancies himself the linchpin in overlapping circles of politics, business, and religion. Norman is mostly talk with more than a whiff of desperation, but when he buys a pair of shoes for an Israeli politician who’s later elected prime minister, Norman finally wields the influence he’s coveted all his life.
The first English-language film by American-born Israeli director Joseph Cedar (who wrote the worldly-wise screenplay), Norman adapts the “court Jew” archetype of the outsider who fortuitously gains power only to ignominiously lose it. The tragedy stems from Richard Gere’s superb portrayal of “a drowning man waving at an ocean liner”—demolishing his elegant image with a study of bottomless need and misapplied largesse—and his unexpectedly moving friendship with the PM (the charismatic Lior Ashkenazi).
Norman is less effective at tracing the political fallout of his many complex deals, chiefly because the image of the frantic Gere roving the streets like a caged animal with earbuds becomes static, even with Cedar’s imaginative staging of conversations and Jun Miyake’s jokey klezmer–meets–Curb Your Enthusiasm score. But Cedar saves his best trick for last, suggesting that inside each public nuisance dwells an anonymous hero.