First time filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki capitalizes on both his knowledge of the inner-workings of the financial industry as well as our scarred recollections of the most recent financial meltdown to create a fascinating thriller that smolders with contempt and crackles with life.
Inspired by a series of essays that ran in Vanity Fair, Jarecki set out to create a suspense-filled thriller about love, loyalty, and high finance that revolves around the turbulent excesses of Wall Street during the most recent economic crisis - when corporations considered too big to fail were headed by finance guys too smart to succeed. Jarecki’s story also plays like a cautionary morality tale with a strong noir character study on its ledger. A big task for sure, to take on a story with so many moving parts and multi-layered themes, especially for a first time filmmaker. But with a great cast, including Richard Gere at the top of his game, and a terrific understanding of what it takes to entertain an audience, Jarecki manages to successfully tackle those themes with a film that is not only greatly entertaining, but also a bit unsettling as well.
Richard Gere is Robert Miller, the portrait of success in American business and family life. We first meet him at home celebrating his 60th birthday where the camera lends careful attention to show Miller’s cherished relationship with close family and friends. But his wife’s (Susan Sarandon) cheek is barely kissed, his children hardly hugged, and the birthday candles not quite blown out before we next see Miller in the embrace of his gallery-owner mistress Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta).
We soon find out that Miller is in way over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his multi-million dollar investment company before anyone finds out he’s been cooking the books to make it look more valuable than it actually is. Miller’s misdeeds and shaky business practices also threaten his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), the firm’s Chief Investment Officer and heir-apparent to his wobbly empire, who hasn’t been told about any of this.
But just as the sale of his troubled empire is about to collide with the revelation of his dirty dealings, things get worse for Miller. Much worse. He is involved in a car accident that brings tragic consequences forcing Miller to juggle family, business, and crime with a cover-up aided by Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller’s past.
The once suave, sophisticated and much loved Miller suddenly becomes the villain. After all, it’s not too difficult to muster a heaping helping of hatred and disdain for the face of those too big to fail. Yet, surprisingly, there’s something about the man that doesn’t allow us to view him as the bad guy. Instead that role belongs to the NYPD detective Bryer (Tim Roth), who will stop at nothing in his pursuits of Miller.
Our sympathetic feelings towards Miller, and that we refuse to see him as the bad guy in all this, points to both Jarecki’s writing and direction as well as to Gere’s wonderful performance. Our loyalties are turned topsy-turvy as we know we should downright loathe Miller and his anything-for-money actions, but Gere has a way of making us buy into the ruse that he’s doing it all for his family. If Gere fails to convince us here, nothing else matters as the entire film rests on his shoulders.
Arbitrage is at its best when Jarecki leaves us challenging our own morals and questioning what we believe are well-defined boundaries of acceptable behavior. How is it that as the noose of recompense tightens around Miller’s slimy neck, we simultaneously experience a twinge of excitement when the weasel slips from the grips of justice? We know better, but they make it so much fun to root for evil we just can’t help ourselves. Credit Jarecki and Gere for creating a character so reprehensible and yet so magnetic – a very hard combination to pull off in a single movie character - that even Gordon Gecko would be proud.
MPAA Rating: R for language, brief violent images and drug use.
Runtime: 100 mins.
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Writer: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere; Susan Sarandon; Tim Roth; Brit Marling; Laetitia Casta
Genre: Drama | Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote: "World events all revolve around five events - M. O. N. E. Y."
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Release Date: September 14, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Arbitrage, the feature-directing debut of writer Nicholas Jarecki, is a taut and alluring suspense thriller about love, loyalty, and high finance. When we first meet New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) on the eve of his 60th birthday, he appears the very portrait of success in American business and family life. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion, Miller is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed. Struggling to conceal his duplicity from loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter and heir-apparent Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller's also balancing an affair with French art-dealer Julie Cote (Laetetia Casta). Just as he's about to unload his troubled empire, an unexpected bloody error forces him to juggle family, business, and crime with the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller's past. One wrong turn ignites the suspicions of NYPD Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who will stop at nothing in his pursuits. Running on borrowed time, Miller is forced to confront the limits of even his own moral duplicity. Will he make it out before the bubble bursts?