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

To get ahead in life, success depends - unfairly - not on what you know, but who you know. Norman Oppenheimer, the eager-to-please New York consultant at the centre of Joseph Cedar's fascinating character study, is a social limpet, who claims to know most of the movers and shakers in the city's Jewish and business communities. He effusively describes everyone in his mental Rolodex as "a very close friend" and breathlessly promises personal introductions as a means to manoeuvre himself one step closer to the actual upper echelons of privilege and power. Yet for all of his bravado and hard earned favours, Norman is always on the fringe of this rarefied world that he covets. "You're like a drowning man trying to wave at an ocean liner," his nephew ruefully observes. "I'm a good swimmer, don't forget that," counters Norman. His chutzpah is a marvel. Richard Gere delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance, imbuing the title character with contradictory traits that are both strangely sympathetic and unnerving. We feel both admiration and disdain as he stalks unsuspecting prey, eyes twinkling with possibility as he spins a flimsy web of lies that could tear in an instant. When we first meet Norman, he's struggling to talk his way into an introductory meeting with powerful financier Jo Wilf (Harris Yulin) via young executive Bill Kavish (Dan Stevens). Bruised but undaunted, Norman licks his wounds at a conference on gas and oil production, where he orchestrates a chance encounter with middle-ranking Israeli politician, Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi). A rash decision to buy his target a pair of designer shoes reaps rewards three years later when Micha is elected prime minister of Israel. The new leader doesn't forget Norman's act of generosity and welcomes the Manhattan fixer into his inner circle, to the chagrin of the Israeli chief of staff, Duby (Yehuda Almagor). Exploiting personal ties to Micha, Norman is granted access to Jo Wilf, raises the profile of his lawyer nephew (Michael Sheen), and boldly promises to help a local rabbi (Steve Buscemi) raise 14 million US dollars to save a synagogue from demolition. The sweet, intoxicating taste of power clouds Norman's flawed judgment and his leaning tower of empty promises threatens to come crashing down on Eshel's head. "He is a threat to national interests," presciently advises Duby. Norman is galvanised by Gere's tour-de-force embodiment of a leech, who weathers a tsunami of rejection and humiliation if it will land him an invite to the top table. Supporting characters are defined in disappointingly broader strokes, not least Charlotte Gainsbourg's ambitious embassy official, whose brief appearances are pivotal to the central character's fate. Much as we hate to admit it, Cedar's film reminds us that there is a little Norman in us all.