Midway through Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, the title character sketches a diagram of his intersecting business, political, and charitable connections. Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is at the center of the web, and yet he's barely there at all.
You might call Norman a flesh-and-blood social network. He exists to link others, and though he must be driven by self-interest, it's hard to tell. Writer-director Joseph Cedar, very intentionally, never shows Norman's home or office — if he even has them — or the family he often mentions but may not exist. Norman seems tethered to Earth only by a nephew, Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen), a Manhattan attorney who pleads, "don't mention my name."
Most people avoid Norman if they possibly can. The movie's story — intricate, rollicking and sometimes sad — turns on three who don't scamper away: Israeli deputy trade minister Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi, who starred in Cedar's equally tricky previous film, Footnote). Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi), who trusts Norman to find the $14 million needed to save his historic synagogue. And Alex Green (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a New York-based corruption investigator for the Israeli government.
The first chapter is full of false starts and failed pacts, although it does see Norman make a possible friend in Micha. Then, three years later, Micha has become prime minister and Norman goes to see him at an AIPAL (read AIPAC) reception in D.C. Micha greets Norman warmly, and suddenly the nonentity is somebody. Micha even has a task for Norman: get his son into Harvard.