Rating: R (language, drug use, brief violent images)
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 14, 2012
Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki
Stars: 3 out of 5
Richard Gere has made a career playing mostly likeable men. Even when he was being somewhat condescending to Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” you still liked him because you knew he had a good heart. Even if you don’t like lawyers, you probably liked his character in the musical “Chicago.”
Gere leaves all of those likable characters behind with “Arbitrage,” where he plays a cold-hearted businessman named Robert Miller who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Ironically, he reteams with Susan Sarandon, who he played the very likable husband of in “Shall We Dance?”
Here, Sarandon plays his wife, Ellen, a social climber of the highest order. They live together in New York, where Robert works on Wall Street while Ellen attends to her charities and social gatherings, having already raised their two children. One of those kids, Brooke (Brit Marling) is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Robert’s hedge fund company. She likes her high-powered position because it makes Robert proud, indicating she may have some daddy issues.
When the film begins, Robert is rushing home to a 60th birthday dinner that Ellen has prepared for him with their family. He seems like quite the family man, until he ducks out early to go see Julie (Laetitia Casta), his gorgeous artist girlfriend. Julie loves Robert but also resents him for not leaving Ellen for her.
But Robert can’t leave Ellen because it would cast doubt about the viability of his company, which is in the process of completing a sale to another company. Robert desperately needs the sale to go through because he has recently made a few bad trades that have led to a $400 million leak from the company ledgers. He has used the same creative math and smoke and mirrors that caused the stock market crash of 2008 to hide his transgressions, but he knows it is only a matter of time before he is found out. If he can get the sale completed before anyone (namely Brooke) finds out, he will be saved.
Of course, nothing goes as planned, or else there would be no drama. Robert gets into an accident with Julie, who ends up dying. Scared and unable to do the right thing, he flees the scene, relying on the son of one of his employees, Jimmy (Nate Parker) to help him hide what really happened.
It is at this point in the film that Gere really begins to shine. A nosy detective Bryer (Tim Roth) begins to snoop around regarding Julie, but he starts getting desperate. He knows if he goes to jail, his company will fail, and his wife and kids will lose everything when his financial malfeasance also comes to light. Pressure from Bryer added with Jimmy’s inability to keep his mouth shut force Robert to make some very unsettling decisions. Gere plays these scenes with a deft hand that shows off his years of acting experience.
Marling is a relative newcomer, having received high marks for her performance in “Another Earth.” Here, she becomes the moral conscience of the film as she begins to uncover what her dad is trying so hard to keep under wraps. She has a big decision to make: Does she rat out her own father, or try and keep everything together for the sake of the company and everyone who works for it?
Sarandon also shines in the film, although her part is fairly limited when it comes to screen time. Like the veteran actress she is, Sarandon makes the most out of her small part, injected Ellen with gravitas that nobody knew was there at the beginning. She starts as a clueless housewife with a social agenda and ends the film as someone who is not to be toyed with.
Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki has weaved a delicious movie web with “Arbitrage.” Although there are not a ton of action scenes and nothing blows up (other than Robert’s life), he still manages to make a taut thriller on par with any film that has chase scenes and gun fights. He takes a morally repugnant character and puts him into such frantic situations that he has no choice but to react like a rat in a cage. He also made a very timely film, as Robert fits in quite well to the post-Bernie Madoff financial world. Between his great script and the fantastic performances he gets out of his actors, Jarecki has ensured that his place in the Jarecki family of filmmakers is more than secure.