The fixer’s journey

Richard Gere stars in episodic character study

Opens Friday, May 19. Starring Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Michael Sheen. Directed by Joseph Cedar. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

The title character may not be a particularly interesting person, but Joseph Cedar’s film about him is very interesting, especially in its portrayal both of the social circumstances in which this “New York fixer” operates and of the various characters who take an interest in him at one point or another.

The overall picture is a glancingly ironic mixture of social drama and character comedy, and it finds its liveliest appeal somewhere between the drab “normalcy” of its first-name title and the hyperbolic extravagances of its cumbersome subtitle. Norman’s low-rent wheeler-dealer self might be tempted to promote this film as a tragic tale of “rise and fall,” but the film that Cedar and company have made gives much more play to tender characterizations and farcical plot twists than the tag lines in that bottom-heavy title might lead you to expect.

The character Norman (nicely played by an unusually modest Richard Gere) at first looks like an elderly, but none too prosperous gentleman and, a little later on, like a homeless man who somehow remains, just barely, more genteel than shabby. But soon enough we also see the bursts of energy in which he assumes his “fixer” guise—the deal-maker, tipster, influence peddler, name-dropper, secret “insider,” etc.

There’s a kind of urban picaresqueness at work in the film’s episodic account of some of the ups and downs in which this peculiar “fixer” becomes ensnared. The central-most episode involves a visiting Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi) to whom Norman impulsively ingratiates himself and from whom Norman will get some outsized public recognition three years later when he returns to New York as Israel’s new prime minister.

The prime minister episode is plainly the weightiest one but the greatest and deepest appeals of the film have more to do with the ways in which each of the episodes becomes a kind of double portrait, partly of Norman, partly of the character he’s encountering in that section of the story.

That all of the portraits, Norman’s included, come across as fragmentary or incomplete seems part of the point. Norman is perhaps a special case, unique in his solitude and in his glad-handing. But Cedar also shows us a half dozen other characters who are similarly entangled in their own mixtures of desperate aspiration.

Those aspects of the film get the full benefit of an excellent supporting cast—Ashkenazi as the politician, Dan Stevens as a young and mostly hostile distant relative of Norman, Steve Buscemi as a sometimes friendly rabbi, Michael Sheen as a lawyer who is also Norman’s rather ambivalent nephew, Charlotte Gainsbourg as a somewhat enigmatic special investigator. Hank Azaria and Harris Yulin have a moment or two as well.