Arbitrage (2012) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for language, brief violent images and drug use
Length: 107 min.

Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Nate Parker, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Reg E. Cathey, Stuart Margolin, Chris Eigeman, Graydon Carter, Bruce Altman, Larry Pine, Curtiss Cook
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Screenplay: Nicholas Jarecki
Review published January 3, 2013

Arbitrage 2012 Richard GereThe word 'arbitrage' is the term for the simultaneous buying and selling of assets in different markets in order to make profits from the differences in price.  As used in this film, one could view this as the buying and selling of trust among people -- family, friends,  partners -- in order to affect the profit margins in business.  And vice vera.

Richard Gere (Nights in Rodanthe, Shall We Dance) plays NYC billionaire Robert Miller, who seemingly has it all in terms of a faithful wife (Sarandon, Robot & Frank), smart and beautiful adult children, a thriving hedge fund business, accolades for his philanthropic pursuits, and all of the creature comforts anyone could want to have at the age of 60 years old. Looks can be deceiving, as Miller's business is in jeopardy (he's lost over $400 million in a failed copper mine investment deal), his daughter (Marling, Sound of My Voice) is beginning to think he is a crook, and he has a hot French mistress (Casta, Gainsbourg) who demands more attention than he's able to give.

He's in the middle of what seems to be an agonizingly slow negotiation to hot peddle off a good chunk of his business to a major banking company before his underhanded moves are discovered and needs to seal the deal so that he's in the clear. The last thing he needs is to call any undue attention to himself, when a tragedy strikes in the form of a freak car accident involving his mistress. Miller can't afford this kind of publicity at this time of his life, opting to cover his tracks, and he finds he must cover up his multitudinous misdeeds even further and hope he can make it through the deal before his entire empire crumbles around him.

Screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki (The Informers) shoots his first script as director to fine results in this provocative thriller that looks at how the wealthy operate by a different system of rules than the rest of us when it comes to being investigated by the law. An idea is sprouted that, sometimes in order to get ahead, some people have to take shortcuts, and eventually they get greedy, and their behavior will ultimately prove to be their undoing. But for the rich, they often can get away with it, as they have the means to pay people off, buy the best of legal counsel, and the cops have to make sure to have a case that is overwhelmingly in their favor. In essence, it showcases a rich man as a completely reprehensible father, husband, businessman, and lover, but his entire life appears to be spent on his public image, convincing the world that he's anything but those things.

Even though Miller does things in a completely selfish and criminal fashion, Jarecki never really paints him as an evil guy in his film. Rather, he is arrogant and used to getting his way, and even though he feels the pressure from all sides to come clean about all of his affairs, he is a shark, always looking to find a way to move forward without ever having to admit he is wrong, and no matter how close they are to him -- even his family. If a man is willing to lie, cheat and steal in way that he would sell out his own family from under him, what hope does the public have that the very rich on Wall Street will play fair and not bilk an unsuspecting public out of billions of dollars if they could?

Gere gives a nuanced, cool performance that plays to his strengths as an actor, as he excels at playing an aloof sophisticate. It's as much of a character study as it is a thriller, as we watch a successful but unscrupulous business man try to cajole his way in and out of things, and even when he looks like he's about to come clean about everything, he quickly determines not to go that route if there is one more way he can get out of trouble. It's fascinating to watch how he deals with a man named Jimmy (Parker, Red Tails), a Harlem resident that Miller calls upon to give him a ride after the accident because he think there are few ties between them, and the younger man owes him a favor. Repeatedly, Miller tries to buy him off (what else is there but money to offer?), as if he is uncomfortable leaving his fate in the hands of someone he doesn't have leverage against, especially as that someone already has a rap sheet the cops, headed by Det. Michael Bryer (Roth, The Incredible Hulk) can use against him. Parker delivers what is perhaps the finest performance in a film full of solid thespians.

In some ways, Arbitrage reminds me of Robert Altman's The Player in that we wach a highly successful man do what he can to cover up a heinous misdeed, and though we find the person's actions reprehensible, there is still a part of us that enjoys watching him try to finagle his way through the predicament. While Altman used his story as a basis for satire, Jarecki plays it straight, making it feel all the more real to a public that already mistrusts Wall Street avarice enough, given how willingly many in the business jettison any form of caring of how their deeds will affect everyone around them in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. In the end, it's not enough to bring forth our outrage at how the financial (and judicial, for that matter) system is rigged, but Jarecki does paint us a picture of the kind of person we're up against.
Qwipster's rating:

©2013 Vince Leo