Writer and director Joseph Cedar's Footnote is an Israeli morality tale about Talmudic studies, ambition, a father-son struggle, and the quest for recognition. It was Israel's Academy Award Nominee in 2011 for Best Foreign Language Film. In his first English work, Cedar has fashioned another thematically rich drama.
Richard Gere plays a tiresome and irritating person who, as the subtitle of the film puts it, is a "New York fixer." He is always seeking to advance his deals or causes and yearning for his own little place in the elitist realm of the nation's power brokers.
No one knows much about Norman — where he lives or whether or not he has a wife and child. He floats around town placing phone calls and striking up conversations with strangers. All the while he practices the fine art of currying favor with powerful people by offering to help them in various ways, dropping names of his connections, real or desired, along the way.
Norman works his chatting skills and savvy insights on Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), an Israeli politician he wants to take to a dinner with a financier. Meeting in a shoe store, Norman buys Micha a very expensive pair of shoes. This investment proves to be very profitable when three years later, Eshel becomes Prime Minister of Israel and despite the warnings of his wife, his chief advisor, and publicist, he insists on calling Norman his good friend.
At a reception, Norman experiences an immensely sweet spot in time. Norman wanders through the crowd of influential Jews whom the director has frozen on the spot. Each is impressed with the New Yorker's friendship with the Israeli and courts his favor.
When the action meanders its way back to reality, Norman and Micha square off against obstacles to their hopes and dreams of the future. The Prime Minister has a plan for peace in the Middle East but he is charged with accepting bribes. Norman tries to use his connections to secure a $14 million donation to help his rabbi (Steve Buscemi) save his historical synagogue in exchange for the rabbi's officiating at an interfaith wedding.
Cedar draws out very polished and affecting performances from Richard Gere and Lior Ashenazi as the fixer and the Israeli politician. Also deserving of praise are Michael Sheen as Norman's nephew, a lawyer who is very concerned about what his uncle may be getting into; Steve Buscemi as his rabbi who overlooks Norman's foibles whenever he thinks he can be helpful; Charlotte Gainsbourg as a New York corruption investigator working for the Israeli government; Josh Charles as a mysterious millionaire; and Harris Yulin as a financier.
All Norman's attempted deals make for an odd map of real and imagined connections. But one thing is obvious. He is a genuine believer in doing all he can to help others. And in the end, service triumphs over getting ahead.