Arbitrage – Movie Review

A walk down the seamy side of Wall Street is pulled out of the shredder by Gere’s performance, but only barely.

The directorial debut of writer/director Nicholas Jarecki features Richard Gere as hedge fund manager Robert Miller. Miller is on the verge of the biggest deal of his life, the sale of his billion-dollar hedge fund to a major bank.

Liquidating his fund will make him one of the richest men in the world and his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling—“Another Earth”) will be right there with him. Too bad for her that she does not know the whole story of her father’s success, or the terrible secret he is hiding.

The hedge fund has seen some hard times and Miller has been forced to cook the books. This was done very carefully and, with the help of a cooperative auditor, the damage has been carefully hidden. As long as the deal can stay under the radar of intense scrutiny, everything should go as planned.

When a last minute error on Miller’s part threatens to result in a wide scale investigation, he is forced to do more than he planned to cover up his misdeeds.

Based on a composite of the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, with the personal touch of a Bernie Madoff thrown in, “Arbitrage” has all the makings of a sizzling financial potboiler. Unfortunately, the film does not quite make the margin call when it comes to in-depth stock market sophistication.

Tim Roth shows up on the scene as hardboiled detective Michael Bryer, investigating a mysterious automobile death. As he and Miller dance around a mixture of hard facts and obscure circumstantial evidence, the magnate feels the circle closing in on him.

Miller’s character is wrought with guilt from the get-go on this portrait of a self-destructive financier with too many weaknesses. He is hiding infidelity from his loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) as well as his brainy financial wizard daughter. In this business, only the strong survive.

Miller wants it all, Bill Clinton style, but the odds of something going wrong are rising every day. Miller is strong but he has an Achilles heel that is slowly crippling his defenses. He is forced to bring in a past associate who owes him a favor but Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker) is trying to live a straight life. Grant’s loyalties will be stretched to the limit as the audit reports come back more and more questionable.

As Miller gets in deeper and deeper, everyone he cares about is in danger of being pulled into disgrace along with him. The best part of the screenplay is that, in the end, the self-made man is forced into betting with chips that he does not own. He not only risks his own honor but he gambles with the honor of those for whom he cares the most.

Jarecki directs the film with skill and grace, using Gere’s acting abilities to their fullest. It is too bad that the abilities of Roth and Sarandon are not fleshed out as well. Roth’s character comes off as too pat and rushed. He is there doing the job of a detective and Roth seems to be doing little more than his job as an actor. Sarandon stays well in the background.

In spite of those weaknesses, the good pacing of the film and the direct, if simplistic, script brings the film in as an entertaining evening at the movies.

Another great performance by Richard Gere makes “Arbitrage” a film to see. Stripped down to the plot of a hedge fund run b y a morally bankrupt manager who embezzles money, it is not a thrilling plot. The recent film “Margin Call” and 2000’s “Boiler Room” were stock market stories with more heart, more thrills and a more intriguing story line.

Even so, the ponderous guilt that Gere brings to the screen makes the movie thrilling. Tim Roth and Susan Sarandon do not get off so lucky. They are doomed to minor roles and never get a chance to contribute nearly what they could. Either one has the potential to perform better than Gere, but this film was not written around them.

Seeing Roth in this role makes one want to the classic “Reservoir Dogs” where Roth’s simmering malevolence brings life to his part. The villains always get the best lines.

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Written and Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling
Release Date: September 14, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for language, brief violent images and drug use
Run Time: 100 minutes
Country: USA / Poland
Language: English
Color: Color