Friday, September 14, 2012


An Emperor And His Pricey Baggage Laid Bare

Richard Gere as Robert Miller in "Arbitrage", directed and written by Nicholas Jarecki. 
Myles Aronowitz/Roadside Attractions


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, September 14, 2012

Cool, moody and imbued with the Michael Mann "Collateral"-esque night and sleekly-dressed players, "Arbitrage", opening in limited release today, features Richard Gere in one of his very best performances as Robert Miller, a New York City billionaire whose investments schemes unravel very quickly in the midst of scandal and murder.  Nicholas Jarecki directs and writes this drama, which takes a somewhat sympathetic look at Mr. Miller, a Bernie Madoff-like figure whose Ponzi scheming -- building wealth from duped investors on a mountain of invisible cash -- gets too far out of hand.  (Note: To arbitrage is to buy and sell the same securities in different markets at the same time, taking advantage or differing prices in various markets.)

Robert, a complicated man, is tied to family, and money is thicker than blood in the Miller household, where business isn't interceded by pleasure, except when it is.  Robert sees himself as a man earnestly doing the right thing; "taking care of" people, even if he does so through manipulative means.  His daughter Brooke (Brit Marling of "Another Earth") takes care of the books and keeps things honest.  His wife (Susan Sarandon, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps") wants Robert to relax and take a vacation where they can freely break the rules together.  He resists.  Robert seeks greener pastures.

"Arbitrage" is an intimate, carefully calibrated thriller about the decline of a man whose fortune and trustworthiness is based on a foundation of paper.  It's also about people who believe that the ends are justified by the crooked means.  "Arbitrage" doesn't make judgments but plays as a silent elegy to the types of people committed to loyalty even if they have to sacrifice morality or justice in the process.  They are sincere in their intentions but are not bold enough to have the integrity needed to survive.  Systems of security are instruments of cynical machinations and betrayal.

Robert is persuasive, dashing, handsome, nattily-attired and well-respected.  When he speaks the financial world listens.  His appeal to investors is immense, which, among other things, accounts for his personal wealth.  Robert is like an older version of the character Mr. Gere played 22 years ago in "Pretty Woman", except he's bartering people's trust, not their love.  The same goes for a Peter Falk Columbo-styled New York City police detective (Tim Roth, sly comic slouching here) looking to solve a murder threatening to reverberate through Robert's family and the investment community.

The crimes in "Arbitrage", like many if not all crimes, are crimes of opportunity, and the participants are often boxed in from the inside.  Each crime has a whistleblower attached to it who calls foul in no uncertain terms.  Lives get wrecked because of excess, power and the ability to do something and think that being Mr. Jarecki, whose brothers Andrew and Eugene are fine filmmakers in their own right, builds his drama in large-scale conversational pieces, which work most effectively when characters and their backgrounds are poured into the fabric of a scene.  Mr. Jarecki has a firm understanding that the stakes for his players are high, and the actors execute their characters in their high-stress environments very well.

Often sobering, Mr. Jarecki's well-written film works best when it concentrates on character exploration rather than melodrama or predictable dramatic devices.  Some characters' fates you can see coming a mile away, and some of the women of "Arbitrage" are sketched only so far as the surface they uneasily stand on.  Besides Mr. Gere's gradual, desperate, cruel and calculating Robert there's outstanding acting from Nate Parker as Jimmy, an important man who is less put upon than he appears. 

Jimmy is a study in contrasts to Robert -- he's more an arbiter or symbol of moral conscience in "Arbitrage" than a character in his own right -- yet Mr. Jarecki's screenplay deeply involves the moralizing Jimmy, a Harlemite who struggles to reject the Robin Hood-ism Robert attempts to bestow.  If Tom Ripley would rather be a real nobody rather than a fake somebody then Jimmy holds fast to integrity in a way that Robert might envy if he stopped to contemplate it.  Even so, "Arbitrage" clearly illustrates that everybody has a price.  Mr. Parker is excellent here and merits Oscar consideration for his balanced work as a smart, streetwise, full-blooded figure who has some urgent choices to make.  Also terrific in "Red Hook Summer" last month Mr. Parker continues to do great work in all kinds of films, even poor ones (January's "Red Tails").

Meanwhile, "Arbitrage" rides to success on the waves of Mr. Parker and Mr. Gere, whose Robert may be a very rich man but is very poor inside, as hollow as the paper he thrives on.  "Arbitrage" is a good film, not a great one, yet it is entertaining and at times riveting.  Watching this morality tale play out is a pleasure, and it grows more impressive by the minute.

Also with: Laetitia Casta, Chris Eigeman, Stuart Margolin, Tibor Feldman, Graydon Carter, Bruce Altman, Felix Solis, Curtiss Cook, Larry Pine.

"Arbitrage" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language, brief violent images and drug use.  Some sensuality at play as well amidst money making and fortune-shredding.  The film's running time is one hour and 40 minutes.      

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