Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Tim Roth, Laetitia Casta, Chris Eigeman, Stuart Margolin
A crisp, procedural-type throwback to 1980s-style financial world thrillers about rich men behaving badly and skirting danger, writer Nicholas Jarecki’s narrative feature directorial debut, “Arbitrage,” has the benefit of a superb, invested cast and a narrative that’s plugged into the current zeitgeist in a compelling fashion. The story of a billionaire hedge fund manager trying to broker the sale of his company ahead of the discovery of either long-simmering financial impropriety or a tawdry and possibly criminal matter from his personal life, “Arbitrage” won’t necessarily win awards for originality, but it’s a sleek, engaging and efficient little cat-and-mouse thriller about some darker human impulses, and the lengths to which a man will go to maintain his rewards and style of life.
On his 60th birthday, Robert Miller (Richard Gere) appears to have it all. A Wall Street titan and “Fortune 500” staple with a successful financial trading and investment company, Miller has a beautiful wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), and a brilliant daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling, of “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth”), who is his chief financial officer and heir apparent. He even has a secret mistress, French-born art magnate Julie (Laetitia Casta). What no one else knows, however, is that his company is poised to take a punishing dive — the result of an over-extended financial bet and fraudulent shell game to conceal it.
So Miller is already desperately trying to unload his troubled empire when an automobile accident with Julie leaves her dead. With the assistance of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), an unlikely face from his past, Miller selfishly flees the scene, mindful of both the secrecy of his affair and the trouble messy manslaughter charges could cause for his professional fortunes. As dogged detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) pursues various leads and zeroes in on whom he believes to be the culprit, Miller’s behavior gets even shadier.
If its basic narrative is essentially a smooth-blended version of “Margin Call” and a rangier “Law & Order” episode, one really gets a sense of Miller’s captain-of-industry sense of entitlement, but also the intelligence and cloistered-world thinking that informs it. “Arbitrage” exists in a swirling fog of duplicity and overall grey morality — one that pulls a viewer in and binds them to the narrative, however innately familiar, by refusing to allow for the existence of white knights.
The cast here is superb, even allowing for Roth’s thin-spun variation on his character from “Lie To Me.” Sarandon and Marling are solid as the women in Miller’s life who awaken to things they haven’t wanted to see, while Gere captures both the hubris and sincerity of this mogul.
If there’s an overarching criticism, it could relate to the movie’s timeline, which basically unfolds over less than 48 hours. This requires a few silly leaps in logic. Also, there could certainly be a bit more carry-through of Miller’s physical pain resulting from the car accident, to ratchet up the movie’s stakes by increasing the panic/pressure on him in a manner to which he is unaccustomed. As is, it’s not overly easy, per se, but Miller does regain an upper hand in his struggles with Bryer in relatively short order. Still, “Arbitrage” is a competent, slickly made thriller of corruption and immorality — it knows of the noose, and how to tighten it.
Written by: Brent Simon