Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki
Written by: Nicholas Jarecki (screenplay)
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Brit Marling
Richard Gere gives a phenomenally sly performance in Nicholas Jarecki’s equally sneaky Arbitrage, although when it’s all said and done the movie is content with simply being slick and clever. It weaves a tale of deception and excess out of the generically named New York billionaire Robert Miller (Gere) and his various personal and financial misdealings.
By far the story’s biggest asset is its willingness to leave Miller’s social circle and directly confront issues of class and race. Jarecki lingers on the wealthy lifestyle a little too often, but the man at the center of his movie is never a hero. The bulk of the entertainment comes from watching Gere bring such a manipulative man to vivid life, and though it doesn’t really leave much to think about when the credits roll, it is certainly an engaging and relevant story to tell.
Miller is the emotional antithesis to the man at the center of Cosmopolis, another 2012 movie about a troubled one-percenter and his various deceptions and collapses. Arbitrage is not helmed by a master like David Cronenberg, but it is also not held back by a dud like Robert Pattinson. Gere is a fantastic centerpiece surrounded by wonderful supporting turns from Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Nate Parker.
Jarecki may not confine his story to the inside of a hyper-real stretch limo, but he certainly does slowly tighten the noose around his main character in the same claustrophobic fashion. Not only is Miller covering up more than $400 million in fraud at the beginning, but by the time it reaches the halfway point he’ll be implicated in manslaughter.
The almost invisible storytelling techniques at work here allows us to absorb just how much of a liar this guy is without having to think about it. He flies in his private jet to go to his 60th birthday party, only to leave that family gathering in a taxi. Of course he wouldn’t take his chauffeur to visit his mistress, that would create a loose end.
Details like this help elevate the conventional story to something engaging and somewhat insightful. After Miller falls asleep at the wheel, flips the car and kills his mistress in the passenger seat, he flees the scene and calls on a payphone as the car burns away the evidence of his presence. He doesn’t call a family member or some shady Michael Clayton-type, though, but Jimmy Grant (Parker), the son of a former employee that Miller helped in the past.
From here the story grows more and more complicated, leaving a mandatory wake of emotional ruin in its path. No one is happy at the end, except for maybe Jimmy, whose modest dreams of moving to Virginia with his girlfriend and their savings to manage an Applebees illustrate the vast gap he has with Miller on almost every level.
Jarecki seems to be forcing the class and race conflicts at play to the surface at times, but that’s better than forcing them out of the narrative completely. Roth’s energetic police detective also has a bone to pick with the megarich, and sees this accident as the perfect opportunity to take Miller down. Like a Polanski movie, Arbitrage twists and turns through a corrupt societal cesspool and arrives at the conclusion that there is no fixing it. The biggest difference, though, is it’s told from the perspective of someone who doesn’t want it fixed.