Timing is everything. Two years ago, when writer-director Nicholas Jarecki was writing his first feature “Arbitrage,” which would then go on to attract the incredible acting talents of Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker and even Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, the story line probably seemed fresh. But after countless Bernie Madoff-type of films, TV series arcs (“Damages” springs to mind), and documentaries over the last couple of years, it’s hard to register “Arbitrage” as anything fresh.
Depicting a Titan of Industry, in this case a hedge fund manager, Gere portrays Robert Miller on his 60th birthday. He appears to be a man on top of his world with his private company jet, his New York townhouse, his smart wife, Ellen (Sarandon) and doting daughter Brooke (Marling), who is poised to take over the family money business.
But don’t be fooled, there are cracks in Miller’s life.
Miller is desperately trying to sell his company for cash needed to repay some creative accounting. He also has a gallery owning French mistress, Julie (Casta) on the side. And as Miller works to keep all of his plates in the air, a few tragic missteps occur. Instead of owning up, Miller is plunged deeper into the moral abyss, and at each turn risks being exposed.
But in Miller’s mind, a few bad deeds will ultimately create a greater (i.e., financial) good, at least for Miller and his family. And what’s it matter if he has to pull his former driver’s son, Jimmy (Parker) into the mess. Even though he’s a kid from the wrong side of the tracks trying to rebuild his life, can’t Miller just give him a wad of money for his loyalty (and lies).
It’s these moral ambiguities that sadly play into so much of our world’s mode of operation today. And when one might think that Roth’s NYPD Detective Bryer might bring some justice, there are grays in the Detective’s process as well.
Writer-director Jarecki understands both New York’s financial world and the film world. His parents worked in commodities and hedge funds, and Jarecki learned the financial markets from his parents. He graduated from NYU Film School at 19 and wrote “Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start.” This led Jarecki to make his documentary, “The Outsider,” which followed one of his book’s subjects, writer-director, James Toback.
Jarecki explains the genesis for the Robert Miller character in the film’s production notes: “I thought about a man who lives in those [twenty-thousand square foot] mansions – what kind of guy is he? … What if he was once a good man, but as he grew richer, his life became more complicated and corrupt, since his money lets him live outside the boundaries of conventional morality.” The world of “Arbitrage” was born.
It’s absolutely true that Richard Gere anchors Robert Miller’s questionable decisions in realism, and that Gere turns in another great performance. Although the film’s promotional push is for an Oscar nomination for Gere, one wonders if the film is strong enough to warrant notice as the serious, adult fare rolls into theaters this Fall.
As with the financial markets (and film), timing is everything.
“Arbitrage” is 100 minutes, Rated R, and opens September 14 in Los Angeles, New York and other select cities.
For other film reviews by Lori Huck, check out:
‘Lawless’ Film Review: A Strong Cast Propels This Gangster-Western
‘Chasing Madoff’ Film Review: Fraud Suspected a Decade Earlier