Nicholas Jarecki's slick and striking directorial debut, "Arbitrage" is a financial sector thriller, grounded in our turbulent sociopolitical contexts. With the name like "Arbitrage" you might expect a movie about the labyrinth of the world's financial systems. Yeah, there is little of that, but it doesn't demand a viewer to know all about the hedge funds. In fact, it plays in a straightforward manner and often remind us that that thrillers do not have to be action-packed to generate tension.
PlotRobert Miller (Richard Gere) doesn't have a single problem. He has many problems, and they are multiplying in minutes. He is a billionaire and a wall street Oracle. He looks like a sage on the surface, but you should see what's going on underneath. Miller is married to Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and has two children. They are also working for him. His daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), is smart as a whip and is the company's chief accountant, while his less talented son (Austin Lysy) remains a disappointment to him. Apart from a loving family, Miller has a affair with a French artist named Julie (Laetitia Casta), whom he constantly slips away to see.
He is also on the brink of ruin: Miller’s company is up for sale, not only that it is also up for federal audit, and he has illegally borrowed more than $400-million to cover the huge numbers gap between what he is charging for his business and what it is really worth. On the other hand, the lender is getting nervous and immediately wants his money back. So, Miller has to do what he can to keep the fraud hidden, his daughter totally in the dark about the whole situation and the Internal Revenue Service at bay.
At this worst moment, an unexpected accident occurs, that kills his mistress Julie. Fearful that negative publicity will bury the sale of his company, Miller flees away from the scene and calls Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of his former chauffeur, to help him out. The car crash now attracts a bloodhound detective, Michael Bryer (Tim Roth). Will Miller get himself out of this mess?
AnalysisIs Robert Miller, a ruthless, selfish villain? By normal standards, yes. He doesn't care about laws or anybody, and yet there is something about Miller, which is to say something about Richard Gere's performance, that makes him fascinating to watch. Gere's Miller is compelling and nuanced, delineating humanity out of a man who would otherwise join the ranks as the loathsome poster children of greed at its worst. Gere has always been underestimated as an actor and mostly singled out for his handsome face, but in "Arbitrage" he wonderfully explores the dark side that lies underneath that glossy exterior.
The supporting performances from great actors like Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and 'The Wire's' Reg E. Cathey are all too strong to let Arbitrage sink beneath contrivance. Even though this is a straightforward thriller, the screenplay by Jarecki keeps us guessing till the end. There is no incomprehensible twists here, but the movie unspools in a convincingly believable fashion that defies predictability. As a director Jarecki displays a sure hand in navigating tricky material and also has drawn excellent performances from all the actors involved, especially Gere.
Alfred Hitchcock has always given a cautionary advice that cinematic suspense trumps morality. In Arbitrage, we intellectually know that Miller is a criminal who deserves to be punished, but what we feel emotionally is different -- that we want him to somehow slip through the ordeal unscathed. While the specific crime may have gone unpunished, but their weight will not immediately—or perhaps ever—dissipate.
Arbitrage does a delicate job of exposing entrenched forces which are very good at insuring their continuing success with business as usual. It is the high-minded archetype, which proves that smart and dedicated performers can drive a compelling narrative.