The week’s most fascinating, flawed work comes from Israeli director Joseph Cedar, whose previous films Beaufort and the brilliant Footnote have both earned him Oscar nominations in the Foreign Film category.
Now his first English language movie takes on the archetype of the ‘Court Jew’, the go-between fixer here being played by Richard Gere, a scratchy little Jewish ‘macher’ desperately trying to make a big score in the world of finance and politics.
One such shady move finds him, for once, befriending a rising star of Israeli politics, for whom he buys a pair of smart shoes and secures a fancy dinner invitation that goes painfully awry.
Despite this initial failure, a few years later, this star, Eshel, becomes Prime Minister of Israel and Norman Oppenheimer suddenly finds his investment of friendship paying off and finds himself at the centre of affairs.
For a brief moment, Norman is the king maker.
But Cedar has the world close in on Norman, the little man in too deep. It becomes a crisis of faith and friendship, of scrabbling for connections and cousins, of phone calls and promises.
Cedar’s films often have an absurd, Kafaka-esque quality, a maze of morals and rules, people getting lost in protocol or paperwork, religious or otherwise. Norman certainly has that, even positing that the world is full of ’Normans’. Maybe it’s even that Normans make the world go round…
You feel Norman could have been a great film – but that this eventual version isn’t. Richard Gere, I just don’t buy as a conscientious Jew (indeed as a conscientious anything), and the casting of several obvious non-Jews (Steve Buscemi as a Rabbi, Hank Azaria over-egging the accent heinously) is a gamble that doesn’t quite pay off.
Of course, though, gambles are what Norman’s all about and the climax builds to something complicated and devious yet also affecting – or it would have been, if I could have believed Gere. He’s just not a Norman.