- Movie Rating -

Arbitrage (2012)

| September 15, 2012 | 0 Comments

Richard Gere has always been a reliable actor, not consistently successful, but always reliable.  He has a welcoming and handsome face that is easy to trust which makes him perfect to play men of complexities, especially those who beam with good-will in the daylight but whose souls contain dark shadows.  He can play good guys very well, but it is the bad guys that he does best.  To paraphrase Mae West: When he’s good he’s very good, but when he’s bad he’s better.

In Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, Gere gives his single best performance playing Robert Miller, a man who is crooked and corrupt down to his toes, a slick Wall Street magnate who is involved in a merger in which he has fixed the books in order to hide a $400 million debt not only from his investors but also from his own daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) who works as his Chief Financial Officer.  If this surfaces, it could mean jail time for him and could ruin Brooke’s budding career (comparisons with Bernie Madoff are not subtle).

At home Robert’s family life looks ideal.  He lives in a luxurious house that looks like a page out of Better Homes and Gardens.  He is married to a good woman Ellen (Susan Sarandon) who paints on a fake smile while turning the other cheek while her husband romances a girlfriend on the side.  She understands that, like a dutiful employee, she holds the position of being a rich man’s wife.  She initially seems to be unsettlingly naïve, until later when we come to understand all that she really knows.

All of this sounds horrifying, but through Gere’s brilliant performance it is all endlessly fascinating.  He presents us with a man who talks as fast as he thinks, but never seems to imagine what might be the right thing to do.  His mind is a game of speed chess and one of the wonderful things about this film is watching him try to keep all of the balls in the air while his misdeeds seem to be crumbling around him.  He is a man who knows every angle, every trick and every shady deal.  He’s the kind of guy who skirts disaster by knowing how to walk between the raindrops.  His style is fascinating to behold.

Robert’s problems begin with his girlfriend Julie (Victoria’s Secret model Lecretia Casta).  Driving her car late one night, he dozes off and the car flips over and over.  She is killed and he is injured.  He walks away and starts to call 911, but decides against it.  Instead he goes to a payphone and calls Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker) the twenty-something son of a former employee and asks him to pick him up.  Jimmy has no idea why Roger has called or what has happened.  Later, the police trace the payphone call but don’t know who it was from.  Jimmy looks guilty of obstructing justice but he won’t give Robert up.

That begins a tricky series of events that threaten to bring Robert’s whole world crumbling down on top of him.  The deception of the accident gets closer to the surface through the machinations of a scruffy detective (Tim Roth) who presses and threatens Jimmy to find out who was the driver in the accident.  Meanwhile, the deception of the debt gets closer to the surface when Brooke begins to notice some discrepancies in the figures.  As we near the third act, more and more deception comes to light and Robert has to think fast to keep it all buried.

What is interesting is the way the movie keeps everything balanced on pure logic.  Nothing in this script seems phony or out of place.  This is one of those movies where it actually gets better the more you think back on it.  There are moments in this movie that are pitched perfect.  Note the final conversation between Robert and Ellen as she reveals her hand.  There’s something about her that we sense has been buried for years but is only now allowed to be spoken in words.  The way that scene plays out (without giving too much away) is so perfectly acted, written and directed, we understand that she has learned the manipulative chess game by observing a man who is a master.  She unloads on him in much the same away that Kay unloaded on Michael in The Godfather Part II.  The impact is the same.  Later, in a moment that contains no words, we understand that she is also trapped.

Arbitrage, is written and directed by a 33 year-old, first-time filmmaker named Nicholas Jarecki.  He has a sure hand as a storyteller.  He works this screenplay out logically, not with formulas and chases and brash speeches.  Each of his characters work on their own agenda, and he is smart to give equal time to key supporting players like veteran actor Stuart Margolin as Robert’s soft-spoken lawyer.  He speaks slowly and methodically, trying to get his client to slow down and use logic.  Also, Tim Roth as the detective investigating the accident, he knows that Miller is involved but only needs the key to get him – his machinations, when they are revealed are a stunning surprise.  And watch Nate Parker as Jimmy Grant, an African-American kid who has been in trouble with the law before and fears that Robert’s meddling will get him 10 years in jail, yet he is trapped by his loyalty because of what Robert did for him  in the past.

Yet, once again much of the credit must go to Richard Gere who gives a performance that should get him his first Oscar nomination.  This is his best work, playing a man who is evil and corrupt, yet we feel for him.  We are always privy to his evil deeds but he has us so tightly in his grip that we want to see him get out of this jam. He captivates us.  That as much a credit to Gere’s acting as it is to Jarecki’s marvelous script.

What Nicholas Jarecki has created here is one of the best films of the year, a film that, in years to come, may serve as a commentary to a future generation of how we lived now in the 21st century.  That’s sad news because here is a movie about how a man of great wealth can get himself around his problems with the right resources and the right amount of money.  We live in a time when morality seems to have been misplaced by how much one can get away with.  Money and power seem to have replaced the notion that the meek shall inherit the earth.  As long you’re not dead, bankrupt or in jail, that seems to be all that matters.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Drama