Watching the esteemed Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s new film NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER, I kept thinking that the wardrobe expenses for the main character was quite a bargain, as Richard Gere wears the same camel-hair coat and grey cap throughout the movie with a very occasional change into a suit. The character Norman is the Bernie Madoff of the political and social set - building exotic schemes and dreams upon the sludge of greed and desire, but as his clothing indicates in a spare and pared down manner.
Norman is a cipher - we have no idea where he lives; his personal life is a mystery; whether he gets any financial remuneration out of his zany deals; or whether he gets satisfaction in just being accepted by men-in-power that are as secretive and cagey as he is. This is the tragic tale of a man who has come to believe in his own lies, a man passionate about making connections - hooking up people with one another - a “shadchan”, the Yiddish word for matchmaker, but for the marriage of political and business elites. This sycophantic “nebbish” is both sympathetic and pathetic. Norman need not fear “invisibility,” since he is vociferously insensitive to his own behavior, annoyingly pestering and nudging his “marks,” like a mosquito that keeps on biting and never feels being squatted away - a gambler, rolling the dice for a jackpot without any money to cover his bets.
Richard Gere, in a defining career move, sheds the glamor of previous roles, to play Norman, a person intensely driven to pushing and cajoling his way into the lives of the power brokers; surprisingly when he does gain some notoriety, his approach to life remains unchanged. Norman continues to wear the identical outfit; his office still consists of wandering the streets of Manhattan making promises on the phone; a loner who remains an enigma who cannot control his need to “help” despite being helpless.
This film is a character study of an older man who unintentionally has an enormous impact on people in his immediate circle, and internationally - particularly Israel’s peace talks in the Middle East. The bare bones of the plot focuses on an early decisive encounter between Norman and an Israeli Deputy Minister, who 3 years later becomes the Prime Minister of Israel. The impact of their initial meeting reverberates throughout the film.
There is an innocence and an affability to the soft-spoken Norman; oftentimes he looks confused and fails to understand that his schemes can lead to dire consequences. Small moments in the film are incredibly moving; Norman sneaking into a synagogue’s back room to dip into a jar of Vita herring which he deftly balances on crackers, underscoring the bleakness and isolation of his life in the very space where he goes to for sanctuary and comfort. Steve Buscemi is excellent portraying the Rabbi of this large Congregation, surprising even himself by reaching out in desperation to Norman, the “fixer” to help save the Synagogue’s building from being wrested away due to lack of funds.