Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker
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Wealth and power can buy you everything, but it cannot buy you absolution. Arbitrage is a focused examination of how one man attempts to pull off a career-saving business deal, but an accident threatens to derail the whole affair.
For decades, Richard Gere was looked on as more of a matinee idol than a respected actor, but over the last several years, he’s focused on more esoteric and unconventional projects that give him a chance to demonstrate his capabilities. In Arbitrage, Gere plays Robert Miller, a successful businessman who’s gotten himself into a dangerous situation. Having squandered much of the money his investors loaned him, his company is teetering on the edge of insolvency and only a last-minute brokered deal with net him the capital to pay off those he owes and save his family’s legacy.
As Miller navigates the tangled web of investment politics, he’s involved in a motor vehicle accident. As he attempts to cover up his involvement to keep the news out of the papers and possibly sour his business deal, everything begins to spiral out of control for a man who’s always had his hands controlling the wheel.
Gere keeps Miller from becoming a caricature of the typical money-hungry businessman. The fear of discovery and ruin motivate him, but when his ethical and moral failings begin affecting the loving and careful balance he’s established with his family, the veneer begins to crack. There’s enough humanity to his character that the audience hopes both his liberty and for real justice. Many businessmen in the real world come off as callous, egocentric men ready to screw over anyone who stands in their way. Gere’s performance employs the stereotype while adding depth and control.
Susan Sarandon takes a small role in the film as Miller’s wife. She’s known about his infidelity for years, but has blissfully hidden behind a lack of verification. As the events around them begin to crumble, her frustration with the revelations begin to tear apart their relationship. Sarandon delivers a fine supporting turn, the film’s best, and one of her career best. Tim Roth plays the crime’s investigating detective and does a fine job conveying the realities of a justice-minded police detective whose pursuit of the truth threatens his own ethical sensibilities. Roth is solid in the film, but has given much better performances elsewhere.
Also of note are Nate Parker as the young man Miller calls in the middle of the night to come and save him who unwittingly gets himself involved in the affair. Parker does an excellent job portraying the familial sense of loyalty that gets him to help Miller while convincing the audience of his fear of discovery and anger at being abused. Brit Marling is a solid presence in the film as Miller’s executive daughter who discovers irregularities in their company’s books and begins to suspect that her father is up to something duplicitous. Her performance helps validate much of the twisting events that dot one of the many supblots on display in the film. Both Marlin and Parker deserve to be given meatier and more compelling roles in the future.
Building on his screenwriting success on the film The Informers, Nicholas Jarecki also takes the helm in his feature fiction debut. Arbitrage is a smart, detailed script that weaves in and out of a complex series of events yet never feels plagued by irregularities or improbabilities. The organic flow of the film fits well with its smaller budget, yielding a movie that’s engaging and thought-provoking. The numerous plot turns and dodges blend together well by the film’s end and while everything is neatly resolved, few characters come out morally grounded.
Arbitrage is one of the year’s better movies that few seem to have seen, which makes it the kind of movie you can discover on DVD and share with your friends. It isn’t a fast-paced film, but its methodical and swiftly moving plot keep it from feeling stale.
January 31, 2013