Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is always trying to put a deal together. He thinks that if he can just get to talk to the right people, he’ll be able to convince them of his idea. But, alas, his attempts to make the right contacts fall short. Until he meets the future Prime Minister of Israel. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (as the subtitle suggests) is a personal rollercoaster of failure, success, and disaster.
Norman sees himself as the catalyst of bringing people together to make money. He believes he just needs the right connections—friends of friends of friends, casual acquaintances. He tries to parlay false connections into real ones. It’s hard to get anyone to pay any attention to him. But he’s always on the lookout for someone who can help him. That is when he meets Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a minor Israeli politician whose future looks about as bleak as Norman’s. He tries to use Micha’s name to make a contact he’s been working on, but it backfires. Then Norman makes a gift of a very expensive pair of shoes to Micha. This token of friendship is way more than Norman can afford, but it makes him feel like the important man he thinks himself to be.
A few years later, Micha’s political fortunes have improved and he becomes the Israeli Prime Minister. At a reception he remembers Norman, embraces him, and tells everyone this is his best American friend. Now suddenly Norman is the one who everyone wants to connect with.
The story is really an interesting twist on the concept of the Court Jew. During the Middle Ages and later, those in power might use a Jewish banker as a lender and to provide contacts with others who could provide opportunities. In literature, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is very much in this role. It was convenient because if something happened, the anti-Semitic attitudes allowed rulers to disassociate themselves and scapegoat the Court Jew, leaving them to take the brunt of any misdeeds—whether they were at fault or not. The twist, of course, is that this is the Israeli government, and Norman serves essentially as the Court Jew of old—especially when Micha is confronted with a corruption scandal.
The moral issue at the heart of this film deals with using other people. There is a sense that we all need other people to reach goals. Often we band together for common goals. (In the film, the synagogue Norman is part of needs to raise money to keep the synagogue open.) But at times we take advantage of others for our own interests. Norman seems to truly believe that all his seeking to use others will be for their benefit. However, in the end it is all about him and how he wants to be accepted. When it seems he has finally been accepted, he discovers that he too can be used and discarded for someone else’s purposes.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics