Is greed good?
Richard Gere plays an unsavory businessman in the high-finance thriller Arbitrage
Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and
It’s always disturbing to see how quickly money (a lot of it) can persuade people to compromise their morals, and Nicholas Jarecki’s feature-length directorial debut offers a glimpse of this in the form of the glitzy, sometimes seedy, world of high finance. Arbitrage follows the story of Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a 60-year-old hedge fund executive getting ready to retire into full-time philanthropy. But, as in any Wall Street thriller, there are a few catches in the plan: Miller’s a fraud (he’s padding his company’s books with some $400 million of his friend’s money), and he needs to complete the merger of his company before he’s exposed. The stakes become even higher when Miller accidentally becomes involved in the death of his mistress, art gallery owner Julie (Laetitia Casta). A massive cover-up ensues, one that involves Miller keeping his family in the dark and enlisting the help of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of a former employee and the only guy who he knows from the other side of town.
Arbitrage’s title may be taken straight from a finance glossary, but it wastes no time in technicalities. Instead, it focuses on the most important point: money. We get the feeling that Miller has dealt with so much money, on such an abstract level, that he no longer knows how to function properly in the real world. Often, he acts like a petulant teenager who believes that yelling (either at people, or by himself) will solve all his problems. He yells when he accidentally crashes his mistress’s car, he yells as he examines his bruised ribs in the mirror, and he yells when his prospective buyer fails to show up for yet another business dinner. At one point, when Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller’s daughter and heir-apparent, confronts him with discrepancies in the company’s accounts, he becomes almost hysterical. No, he is not too upset by the fact that he is breaking the law; he’s upset by the fact that the money is lost in a failed copper mine in Russia, one spewing “so much money” that will never see the light of New York City.
Gere’s performance as a tragically flawed patriarchal figure is compelling to say the least, and performances by the rest of the cast — the ones left to deal with Miller’s mess — are equally strong. Susan Sarandon plays Miller’s surprisingly tough, high-society wife, Marling shines as a naïve young professional who learns too soon the grim reality of her inherited world, and Parker gives a sensitive portrayal as a formerly troubled teen caught up in a dangerous game of loyalty and power. Tim Roth, as relentless detective Michael Bryer, brings a dry sense of humor to an otherwise tense script.
Jarecki has managed to craft a film that is both frustrating and intimate. The overabundance of close-ups may be distracting, but they also capture interactions between characters with a surprising amount of insight. Ultimately, the question is not what Miller will say when he faces the judge, but whether or not he will even face the judge. After all, it’s innocent until proven guilty, and surely Miller has enough funds and philanthropic credibility to deny his guilt. But regardless of his ability to dodge the courtroom or save people with money from his cancer charities, we wonder if he paid too high a price for his reputation.