Sunday, 23 September 2012


Madman Films
Now Showing

On one of those all-too-rare occasions, I went in to Arbitrage knowing next to nothing about it. That is almost always a good thing, and even more so in this case given that Nicholas Jarecki's low-key thriller is set in the world of New York financial wheelers and dealers (finance not being a topic of interest for me).

I'll admit, I got bored just reading the definition of 'arbitrage' -- the simultaneous purchase and sale of an asset in order to profit from a difference in the price -- once it took on an economics tone. But that's no indictment of Jarecki's film (which he also penned) nor the lead performance by Richard Gere.

Gere is Robert Miller, said wheeler and dealer and a titan of the New York business community. Think his Edward Lewis character from Pretty Woman 20-odd years later; the gold-hearted hooker replaced with a cool yet no less ruthless win-at-all costs attitude.

That attitude is brought sharply into focus by two events: Robert's plan to sell the company he has spent decades building whilst trying to keep quiet the missing $400 million until the sale goes through; and the accidental death of his young French mistress, Julie (Laetitia Casta), whilst the two are driving out of the city late one night.

Robert's cooking of the company books could land his daughter, and company CEO, Brooke (Brit Marling), in hot water if it were to be uncovered by the Feds, and do exactly the same for his relationship with her should daddy's little girl uncover the truth for herself.

The death of his mistress (whose existence is presumably unknown to Robert's wife (Susan Sarandon)) is a scandal he can ill afford also. Enlisting the help of Jimmy (Nate Parker), the son of a one-time employee, Robert flees the scene of the accident, inadvertently implicating the young man in the process.

And just as determined as Brooke is to get at the financial truth is Detective Bryer (Tim Roth), a NYPD bloodhound who smells a rat at the scene of the accident. He also has a massive chip on his shoulder when it comes to Wall Street, and is only too happy to bring Robert down when his investigation leads him in that direction.

The stroke of genius in Jarecki's feature film directorial debut was in casting Richard Gere. The now 63-year-old actor, with his distinct grey hair and crinkly eyes, exudes a warmth that is at odds with his character here but invites us to go along with this less than likeable anti-hero as the walls of his ivory tower existence close in.

We know Robert Miller is guilty of both crimes, and that he is willing to sacrifice anyone, including family, to avoid detection. It's hard to invest in a wolf of Wall Street at the best of times let alone in a post-GFC world, but Gere, who hasn't had this meaty a role since Chicago (2002), sells it.

Even as time tends to drag at certain points (Jarecki may be a young director but he's in no rush; using all 107 minutes deliberately if not judiciously), Gere makes Arbitrage a worthwhile investment. The film won't do anything to improve an already disillusioned opinion of Wall Street, but you may find yourself re-evaluating your thoughts on an actor who has been so solid for so long.

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