May 17, 2017

Endearing oddball played right by Gere.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

Grade: B+

Director: Joseph Cedar (Beaufort)

Screenplay: Cedar

Cast: Richard Gere (Arbitrage), Michael Sheen (Passengers)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 57 min

by John DeSando

“I need the satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing good in the world.” Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere)

Whether or not that is a true statement depends on whether or not you believe the eponymous Norman is a good soul or just a low-level fixer, an operative who changes things by virtue of his connections, real or otherwise. After all it is New York where millions of people are trying to fix millions of situations by connecting with millions of someones who can help.

From saving a synagogue to getting a boy into Harvard, Norman is involved in a variety of influence initiatives that sometimes are built on the sheer power of his words and sometimes actually emanating from good will and connections. He is dedicated to creating opportunities, not one of which seems to help him personally, or not.

Like Woody Allen’s Zelig, Norman seems to be anywhere and knows everybody although no one really knows him. Like a spy out of a Le Carre cold-war novel, he’s part spy and part good guy with suspicion of the contrary. Such an ambiguous character is perfect for Gere. Who plays him self-effacing skirting danger as he worms his way into lives and gatherings seemingly for no other purpose than to push and initiative to help someone. Or not.

The defining project for this fixer and do gooder is to befriend an Israeli deputy minister, Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), who later becomes prime minister. As Norman says, “For once I bet on the right horse.” The whole title of this film will give you the hint of the outcome of this friendship.

As an allegory, the film serves the level of showing the intrigues and pitfalls of political life, no matter how obscure, and as  a close friend posits, showing Norman as a Christ figure come to sacrifice for the love of others. Besides those lofty themes, the story also shows the dangers of anonymous generosity misunderstood.

If you are not a patient viewer, Norman may not be the film for you; if you do not believe that humans can be, beneficent. But if you like a quirky movie with loads of ambiguity and the best performance of Gere’s life, see this little delight.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at