Nicholas Jarecki’s very serious debut feature film is draped in middle of the road finance drama. Odd then that it somehow manages to utilise a beautiful performance from Richard Gere to lift Arbitrage above the level of an average high finance drama. A taught, thrilling script, by Jarecki himself, makes it a supremely entertaining tale of greed and dishonesty, luminously shot by I Am Love’s Yorick Le Saux and, though it’s underlying morality is often challenging for its audience, Jarecki never explicitly judges our slippery, philandering protagonist, letting actions and consequences do the talking.
Gere is Robert Miller, a stressed out millionaire hedge funder who is in a bit of a pickle. With the sale of his company imminent in the midst of and audit, Miller needs to keep a borrowed $400m on his books to help plug a hole left by a misjudged investment. His daughter (Brit Marling) who is also the firm’s accountant, is gradually uncovering Miller’s mistake and, as his wife Ellen (a sadly underused Susan Sarandon) gets closer to finding out about his affair with young French artist Julie (Laetitia Casta), a horrible car accident inexplicably intensifies Miller’s lies as he fights to sell his company and keep the wolves from the door. One wolf in particular, a detective by the name of Bryer (a New York mode Tim Roth) ups the pressure again and the story deepens, grand jury and all.
Although Gere’s surprising performance shall be the most talked about ingredient of Arbitrage, full credit to the film’s young director. After just one documentary to his name (the rather excellent The Outsider) Jarecki has written a script which contains elements of hundreds of high finance thrillers past and yet manages to mix them into a rich story which never feels bland or forced. Right in the middle of a period in history where our film makers are tearing apart the one percent-ers, he boldly offers a look at the other side and draws a tale which coaxes its audience into a horrible predicament; Will we root for Robert Miller?
The question of caring about Miller is perhaps the film’s only downfall. Something doesn’t quite sit right between the scheming of his personality and his obligation to Jimmy (Nate Parker), a young black friend of a friend who is suddenly embroiled in Millers lie. But Arbitrage decides not overly concern itself with whys and plays out slickly and gracefully. Gere is the real winner here and despite the first sugar sweet ten minutes, he quickly becomes the steely eyed silver fox we all know; Charming, mysterious and untrustworthy, writhing on screen like a snake and yelling about “money being god!”. It’s far and away the 62 year old actors best performance, setting himself apart from the genre’s daddy, Gordon Gecko. Picking up after Al Pacino dropped out, Arbitrage uses his oblique, often parodied acting style, brilliantly in this superior money and morals thriller.