Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Screenwriter: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 8/30/12
Opens: September 14, 2012
Would you believe that accounting, considered by many the most boring of jobs (and college majors) would attract so many people during the past few years? The reason is obvious: scandals, corrupt corporations, the housing bust, the Bernie Madoff case, the U.S. growing deficit. All have made headlines day after day. Film studios see stories about economics as hitting the jackpot, enticing a much larger audience to the megaplexes than, say, in 1950. Alex Gibney’s “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” for example, is a documentary dealing with the corruption and greed of super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, while Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” is an indictment of General Motors, whose chairman, Roger Smith, destroyed the town of Flint with his downsizing. “Casino Jack” is mighty informative, but still, it’s not the sort of pic that would rivet a large audience, while “Roger and Me” is funny, as you’d expect from Michael Moore, but still, it’s a documentary that would not necessarily inspire big box office numbers.
The way around this is to make a narrative film like “Wall Street,” whose slogan “Greed is good” is well-known to a large segment of the population, which went to the theaters to see Michael Douglas and to witness a riveting work of fiction that is closely modeled on real life. And who can resist a movie that stars Richard Gere in almost every frame, expressing himself in the cool tones of a billionaire and also in the harshly melodramatic screams of a man in deep trouble? Such a film is the remarkably well-made “Arbitrage” (the word means “attempting to profit by exploiting price differences usually of similar markets”). Yorick Le Saux’s lensing is crystal clear, providing Mr. Gere with the closeups that his fans live for, Douglas Crise’s editing is never choppy (no martial arts fights or general mayhem that loses impact from too many cuts per second), and Cliff Martinez’s music is never overbearing but just enough to add suspense to a plot that already builds to a crescendo before winding down in the final moments.
Gere is the ideal actor for the role of a man who despite combining the greed of a Bernie Madoff or the compulsion to cover up an accident like Ted Kenney at Chappaquiddick has so much charm that we’re going to root for him to get away with whatever he did. Nor does it hurt his character that the detectives seem so eager to make charges that will stick even if they threaten a young black man with fifteen years’ incarceration if he refuses to snitch on the man he helped.
Nicholas Jarecki, the thirty-year-old man writer who serves at its helm, is known for the doc “The Outsider,” which gives us a look at what it takes to be a filmmaker. This time, in his first feature-length narrative film, he lets us in on what it’s like to be a billionaire; exposing the truth that the higher you go, the more crashing the fall, as the Greek tragedians knew so well.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) has made a blunder with his investors’ money, losing hundreds of millions from betting badly on Russian copper, but to give the public the appearance of success, he borrows over four hundred million to cover the loss until he can get an unsuspecting banker named Mayfield to merge the bank with his company. Miller’s wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), is willing to overlook her man’s dalliances with the beautiful, young Julie (Laetitia Casta). When Julie is killed in an auto accident while driving with Robert to a romantic spot, Robert tries to cover up, as an exposure would ruin his reputation in financial circles and perhaps destroy his relationship with his wife and his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling). Miller relies on a young family friend, Jimmy (Nate Parker), to get him back to town before sunup, implicating him as an accomplice, thereby whetting the appetite of Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) to nail Miller through Jimmy.
Jarecki is as interested in the thriller aspect of the film as in the financial skullduggery, giving the picture added dimensions, as the detective is determined to bring about the metaphoric death of the rich salesman. The movie provides ample time for the beautiful 30-year-old Brit Marling, who—as art follows life—once turned down a job offer from Goldman Sachs to work as an artist. Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere, per everyone’s expectations, turn in professional performance, Sarandon as the rich but oft-ignored wife and Gere as the charmer in heaps of trouble. Yet the most illuminating work comes from Tim Roth as the detective, a man who hates rich people, and who questions everyone while slouching so far down on the chair that he looks ready to catch some shut-eye–but whose interrogations are designed to grind down the defenses of the accused.
Rated R. 107 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member: New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-