by Michelle McGlynn
Arbitrage is not simply another anti-corporate rant nor is it a typical ‘fall from grace’ tale. There are elements of the familiar but it feels so slick and fresh that you forget this in minutes. Writer and director Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature is impressive in its detail and precision but it is Richard Gere’s performance which takes Arbitrage to another level.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is an extremely successful hedgefund manager. Miller’s face graces the covers of publications such as Forbes magazine. He is put forth as someone to be emulated and respected. And why not? He has created an empire, his philanthropy is admired by all, he is beyond charming and he still finds ample time to spend with his beautiful, loving family. Miller even finds time for a high maintenance mistress, Julie (Laetitia Casta). At this time though, any semblance of a thriving professional life is a myth, one that Miller must attempt to uphold until he can sell the company. This means plugging a $400 million hole in the company’s books until the transaction is completed. This volatile situation is intensified after Miller is involved in a fatal accident. With his family and business life hurtling towards complete ruin, Miller must ensure his fraud and possible manslaughter charges remain a secret.
Jarecki’s first feature is as slick and confident as Robert Miller himself. One would be entirely forgiven for mistaking Arbitrage as the work of a much more experienced director. Jarecki has a unique and informed insight into the financial world in which Arbitrage is set. The son of Henry Jarecki, wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist, Nicholas grew up in Manhattan surrounded by the one percent. Jarecki’s background and keen directorial eye allow him to infuse the film with intricate detail of this world. Jarecki is extremely efficient with his use of detail and dialogue, there is not a needless minute to be found.
Jarecki’s efficiency is part of what keeps the suspense up from the films opening to its conclusion. The film’s leading character is a fraud, a cheat and a liar who would put others at risk including his own daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), who is also CFO of his company. Not to mention the fact that he attempts to cover up the death of his own mistress in order to save his own skin. Miller is a pretty dispicable person. Yet we find ourselves almost rooting for him to get away with it. We tense when it looks as though he may get caught and relax when he can weasel his way out again. The fact that we identify with such a character is a credit to the complicated character created by Jarecki and to Gere’s ability to play him, as well as the audience, perfectly.
Gere is at his best in his Golden Globe nominated role. It has been years since we have witnessed such a performance from him. There are few actors who could play Miller as Gere has. He has always had the confident swagger and the charm to play a financial magnate like Miller but it is his ability to hint at the desperation beneath the facade that makes his performance so wonderful. Highlights include the impassioned, despairing speech he gives his wary “investor” and the negotiation scene in the restaurant.
Jarecki’s impeccable casting has provided Gere with a strong supporting cast. Sarandon is fantastic, as Miller’s wife who understands all too well the territory that comes with being a corporate wife.
Tim Roth personifies the moral outrage of a man who is wealthy and powerful not being held accountable for his actions. Roth is both desperate and determined to bring about some justice, blurring the line between legal and illegal as he does so.
Arbitrage is an extremely promising feature debut for Jarecki. It is confident, suspenseful and engaging from the beginning. As always Gere is an absolute joy to watch as he is at the top of his game. There is not much new ground covered here, but it is a fresh take and a thrilling watch.